Hi everybody!  It’s been awhile since I posted anything on here, i know.  Unfortunately, life and reality happened, as it so often does, and got in the way of what really matters: fiction!!  I’m getting ready to publish the second volume of the Arkarum series, so, for those of you who read the first, the wait is over.  For those of you who haven’t, there’s a great opportunity on Amazon.com right now to get it for free.  But the promo will only last for five days, so get it while it’s hot!

I am posting a sample chapter (the first), of the second Arkarum book, The Wrath of Hell.  check it out and give me any feedback you like: whether you like it, hate it, or it makes you wanna go out and murder some demons!

I’m always open to your feedback, and, if you have read The Hammer and the Blade, any reviews you’d like to post on Amazon would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you for your time and (hopefully) your honesty!

Craig Barnes

P.S.  Stay tuned for more sample chapters and some other stuff I’m currently working on.

 

CHAPTER ONE

DUTY

 

 

The demon stood in the tower.  The man was with him.

            He looked out over the slowly recovering city, and to the snow-capped mountains beyond, hazy with distance.  It had been months since his people had crossed those mountains. 

            His people.  Could he still call them that?  Did he have the right, after all he had been through; all he had become?  The man didn’t know.  The demon was sure that he couldn’t. 

            Months had passed, during which the smoldering city had been slowly but implacably rebuilt.  It was difficult labor, but it was necessary.  They had nowhere else to go.  So they had returned here, to the place that had once been home to many of them, and had just recently been a tomb to many they had loved.  But rebuild they did, with the steadfastness and determination of bees rebuilding a hive. 

            The tower in which the demon stood had been charred with blackened, upward-reaching fingers, but had been otherwise unharmed, the stone standing strong.  There were still dark splatters and patches of blood staining the inside of the tower walls, but the man didn’t mind.  The demon snickered at the blood, but Mercius paid it no heed.  Such things were trivial, compared to the devastation that had been wrought here. 

            The grey stone of the tower rose highest among the buildings of the city, with small arched windows looking out in each direction.  It had originally been designed as a watchtower, with a hinged hatch in the ceiling to give access to the roof, where a large bell had once stood.  The wood of the hatch had been torn out, and the bell itself rested a quarter mile outside the city where it had been flung by a flying demon. 

            Now, Mercius had claimed the tower for himself.  He could no longer live among the men and women below.  Something deep within him, maybe the demon in him, had always known that he couldn’t.  He was not them, and they couldn’t understand him.  The hooked points of his wings, rising above each shoulder, were testament to that.  They still called him General, still looked upon him with devotion and something close to reverence, but there was fear and confusion in those looks now.  Had it always been there, a darkness lurking behind the light of awe and love?  The demon knew the answer, but Mercius refused to listen.  Really, it made no difference.  The men who had followed him, respected him, learned from him, they no longer saw him in the same light. 

            In the months that had followed his short time in Hell, Mercius had been blissfully cleansed of some of his demon traits.  The mottled grey of his flesh had fallen away, leaving pale skin with the look of newness to it, like a baby’s.  There was a scar that inexplicably still ran down the right side of his face, from hair-line, through eye socket and lips, ending above the point of his chin.  The horns that dotted his head had been shed, and he now had a few months’ growth of dark hair coming in, spiked with natural red.  His eyes were the same: the striking green and orange that some said commanded others with their very power.

            But the wings were there still.  Nephilia, the angel who had saved him, and had been his cause for entering Hell, was unable to make the wings vanish.  Her power in this realm, she claimed, was not as great as it was in her own.  Mercius was beyond regretting them, and the demon inside him cackled with glee every time Mercius took note of them.  He tried not to, but the slight cringing of the faces of those he passed in the streets was a constant reminder. 

            And so Mercius stood brooding in his tower.  He had been coming here more and more frequently, fleeing from the darkness he saw in those looks.  It didn’t help much; he knew what they thought of him, and the looks in those eyes stayed with him always.  But at least he didn’t have to see them when he was here. 

            The demon cackled in the back of his mind, finding hilarity in the man’s hiding.  Mercius knew that he would have to face it, somehow, some day.  But he didn’t know how, and didn’t care to think of it.  He just let his mind wander over the city, to the distant mountains.  To the blackness beyond.  That is where he had been; where his transformation had taken place.  He would have to return there, to finish what he had begun.  But the thought daunted him, nearly bringing him to his knees with despair.  The demon relished in the memories of that place, howling with joy and longing, but Mercius stilled the voice as best he could, and shivered.  He had been to Hell.  Had ridden its foul winds through obsidian sky.  Had climbed its treacherous peaks.  Mercius had beaten the Steward of Hell, along with his own father.  But he had to return.  They wouldn’t leave him alone, and Maliphar’s malice would be fierce, now that Mercius had escaped.  Nothing of the sort had ever happened.  Mercius was the first of his kind, man sired by demon on a human mother, and he was the first to leave the clutches of Hell once entering.  Maliphar would not allow such aberrations, and Asgoroth, Mercius’ father, would be the one to bring his offspring back.  He would be consumed with a rage that the world had never before seen, intent only on destroying that which he had created, bringing back a cringing and broken soul to be scoured in the fires of Hell.

            Mercius would fight him.  He would kill them all, if he could.  But the demon laughed at him; he was tiny, compared to those who would send their wrath for him.  He was nothing. 

            Mercius growled at the ever-present thing, and when the demon’s laughter continued, mocking, Mercius’ growl became a howl; a shout of defiance and despair.  It echoed off the stone of the tower walls, and cascaded down into the city.  Mercius knew that the people there looked up in horror and awe, but he couldn’t stop, couldn’t force himself to care. 

            The shout died, and with it the demon subsided.  But it wouldn’t die.  Not so easily as that.  Mercius would have to confront it, to kill it, eventually, but not now.  Not yet. 

            A knock came at the newly hung wooden door behind him.  “Come,” he said, without turning.  He knew who it would be, and a smile lit across his sturdy, handsome face. 

            “You are distraught,” Nephilia said behind him, coming slowly into the small room.  Mercius, even with the demon’s hearing, could not hear her footfalls as she came to him.  She seemed to float wherever she went.  She smelled of summer in the hills, peaceful and somehow earthy, like a breeze through pines.  She always did, though she was not of this world.  She was an angel.  Mercius knew that she scoffed at the term, but she also admitted that there was no accurate word for her kind.  Just as she admitted that ‘demon’ was not an accurate term for the creatures of Hell.  She was the light to their dark, and that was all that mattered.

            “How can I not be distraught,” he said, still gazing off to the mountains.  “They all say that we’ve won great victory.  But they are blind.  We’ve merely stirred the hornet’s nest.  It would have been better to leave well enough alone and flee to safety.”

            Nephilia laughed softly, the tinkling of silver bells in a pool of light.  “You know very well that you could never find safety, Mercius.  Just as those people down there know.  You are the one who told them that, remember?”  There was a sadness to her voice that hadn’t been there when Mercius first met her.  She had been cast down by her enemy, and they had damaged her irreparably.  She couldn’t return to her home, and was cursed to walk this blighted planet instead.  She had lost much of her power, but Mercius believed that was not what saddened her.  She had lost the glory of a place that humans would never know, and this world paled in comparison.  Nephilia had never confided this to him, but Mercius knew. 

            “Perhaps that is why I am so concerned.  I have led them down a path that cannot be changed, and which holds only death and misery at the end.  How can I find peace, when I have doomed so many to such a fate?”

            Nephilia placed a hand on his shoulder and turned him to face her.  Her eyes, deep and mixed with gold and green and purple, shone into his.  The demon howled, but Mercius’ smile widened.  He recalled the first time he had met her in the flesh, in the heart of the Rau’halla.  She was what all women wished to be: beautiful with high cheek bones and supple lips, features coming just shy of being too feminine.  She looked more like a woman than any woman could ever hope, and just staring into her face, framed with shining golden hair, gave Mercius strength and heart. 

            “They have made their choices, Mercius.  And they were the right ones.  You know that, in your heart.  You must admit it to yourself, or you will rot away in this tower while the world crumbles beneath you.  Take heart in the fact that they are still here.  They still love you, Mercius, and will follow where you lead.”

            Mercius scoffed.  “They fear me,” he said, bitterness and pain bleeding into his words.  “They cringe when they look upon me, and it breaks my heart to know that they are right to do so.  I am not natural; not the man they once knew.”

            A small smile played on Nephilia’s face, warming him despite the coldness that lurked inside him.  “Were you ever just a man, Mercius?  Is it not right to fear power?  Should one not tremble before greatness?  You cannot be their friend anymore Mercius, but a friend is not what they need.  They need a leader, and that leader is you.  You have made the choice to follow this path, just as they have made theirs to follow you.  Do not reward their loyalty with abandonment. 

            “You say that we have stirred the hornet’s nest?  We most certainly have.  And death and misery will surely come.  But each has a choice.  These men and women choose to face it, and do so willingly and on their feet.  They will not run for safety or cower before what comes for them.  It comes for us all, and they know that, just as well as you.  But your choice, to lead them or to abandon them to their fate, that is what will bind them or scatter them.  You have the power to hold them together or destroy them.  We have kicked the hornet’s nest, and more will come.  The tale of what you and Griffin did to Mor’denaa already spreads, and more come in every day.  Now, it is a trickle.  Tomorrow it will be a river.  Before you know it, it will be a flood.  All people who come to you willingly and with a determination such that only a human can have.  What you have started will not stop.  It is for you to decide how you will handle their loyalty.”

            Mercius broke away from that serene gaze, shamed and terrified.  She knew him better than any other, and seemed to see into his heart.  He knew that he had a choice to make, and knew that he could not turn away from what he had to do.  He had vowed, what seemed like so long ago, to rid the world of demons and all other Hell-spawn.  He intended to see it happen, but wailed inside that it would cause so much death; so much anguish and misery. 

            But he knew what he must do.  He nodded to her, and her smile melted into him, flooding him with a warmth he thought had abandoned him.  A slight breeze blew in through the small windows of the stone tower, bringing the scents of mountains and grass and people working below.  They were no longer his friends, but they were his people.  And he would lead them from victory to despair. 

            Hopefully he could lead them back, as well.             

            Another knock came at the door, this one loud and authoritative.  Mercius broke his gaze from Nephilia’s and said, “Come.”

            Griffin walked into the dimness of the tower room.  He was a tall black man, of a height with Mercius.  His black hair hung in dreadlocks to below his shoulders, and his green eyes held a softness that was deceptive.  He was dressed roughly, in a tanned hide vest and pants and had the hilt of his sword protruding over one shoulder as always.  He was broad of shoulder and chest, with large arms corded with muscle.

            He nodded to Nephilia, and Mercius smiled.  It was hard not to kneel before her, but she hadn’t allowed it.  “Mercius,” he said, turning toward him. There was a brief flicker in his eyes as they went to the points of his wings; a momentary cringing, there and gone.  “We need to talk.  There are things that require your attention.  The troops are restless.”

            Griffin’s tone was firm.  He didn’t shout, but he was close.  Griffin made no show of hiding his displeasure with Mercius’ absence.  He was right, Mercius knew; Mercius had inadvertently heaped all of the responsibility of the city on Griffin’s shoulders.  The Hammer and the Blade, the legion that Mercius and Griffin had forged together, needed their other General. 

            Mercius walked over to Griffin and put his hand on the man’s shoulder, peering into his eyes.  Griffin’s face did not soften.  He returned the gaze, steel wrapped in softness.  “Forgive me, friend,” Mercius said softly.  “I have abandoned you these last weeks.  I hadn’t meant to, but I did, and for that I am sorry.  I shouldn’t have forced you to do the work yourself.”

            Griffin, no doubt expecting a fight with his friend, let his features soften slightly, and let out a long breath. “I know how much you have been through,” he said, “but you are needed below.  They cannot do this without you.  I can’t do this without you.  More people are coming in every day, with no signs of slowing, and we need to find places for them.  The construction is going smoothly enough, but there are doubts surfacing, and it makes them hesitant.  If we are to stay here, they’ll need a leader.  They need you.  Will you not show yourself to them?”

            “I will, Griffin,” Mercius said.  “But I can’t go on as I did before; as if nothing has happened.  Things have changed.”

            “What will you do?” Griffin asked

            “I don’t know.  But I will let you know.  It will involve you, I’m sure.  As I said, things have changed.”

            Griffin looked confused and concerned, but held his tongue.  He turned to leave, and Nephilia followed him, pausing to give Mercius a small smile of reassurance.

            Mercius gazed out of the small window again, this time not looking to the distant, hazy mountains, but down at the city below.  The people worked determinedly. 

            His people.

 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Hammer-Blade-Arkarum-ebook/dp/B0093U1NRW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1366050101&sr=8-1&keywords=arkarum