Monday, November 10, 2014

"Descent" Excerpt #2 From Part 2, Nicolae's Escape

Hey all,

Here is excerpt #2 from Descent (The Birthrite Series, #1) as I finish the final polish and get the ebook format ready. :)

This one is from Part 2 of the book (Part 2 is titled Nicolae's Escape). It takes place in the year 1844 with two escaped Romani ("gypsy") slaves in Romania (Transylvania). This excerpt is on the gory side.

Read after the jump. :)

Excerpt from Part 2, Nicolae's Escape

With each passing second, the mist grew denser and a dark shape emerged from the brush. It appeared to float, being carried by the spreading fog. Nicolae's heart raced inside his immobile body. He turned his eyes back to Sebastian, who was still peacefully asleep beside him. Calling to his brother was also a defeated attempt as his voice was trapped at the base of his throat. The younger boy's breathing seemed to slow, growing deeper and louder until it produced an echo that intermingled with Nicolae's heartbeat.
Nicolae struggled once more to bring an arm to wake Sebastian as the dark figure closed in and hovered above the boys with its long, dark cloak billowing about. The young man could feel the visitor's eyes pierce in to him, attempting to uncover his every secret from beneath the dark hood that masked an identity.
The fog thickened, forming a white curtain around Nicolae's surroundings. He continued his fight to wake his brother while trying to bring the other hand to his dagger, but nausea shot out from his core and spread throughout his body like a plague. The fog started to circulate, forming a giant whirlpool as a violent throbbing assaulted Nicolae's temples until his vision darkened. Terrified as he was, the black haze was almost a great relief.
He let out a loud groan and rolled onto his side, bringing a hand to the source of the pain. Then his eyes shot open at the realization of being able to move.
A relieved sigh escaped him as he saw the woods restored to their original darkness. Only a dream...
With his eyes still lowered, he slowly pulled himself to a seated position and tried coaxing away the remaining pain by pressing his palms to his forehead. As it slowly evaporating, Nicolae noticed the reddish tint reflecting off the dark olive skin on his forearms. He frowned, wondering what would cause such a thing.
He lifted his gaze to gauge the source and jumped back upon seeing what hovered over him. In a pitch black starless sky, a giant, blood red moon brushed the tips of the grotesquely twisted, gnarled trees that surrounded him.
Despite their tangled and uneven appearance, the bare branches appeared unbreakable with the trees being of the thickest, black bark. Like many pairs of contorted arms, they seemed to be reaching toward him.
As Nicolae's eyes adjusted, he turned to where his little brother lay asleep, only to find the space empty.
He looked to the other side of him and found that his bag was also missing. Frantically, he surveyed the area as he rose to standing. He cleared his throat and tested his voice before calling out to his brother.
Nicolae listened, awaiting a reply, but the shallow echo of his voice through the trees was the only response. He took a step forward, hearing the crunch of the barren, rocky soil beneath his boots as he called to Sebastian again, but the forest remained still.
He tried searching for any indication to his whereabouts along with his brother’s.
'Sebastian could be anywhere…' The voice was far away, though clear as a bell.
God, Sebastian! Where are you?
“SEBASTIAN!” he screamed, no longer caring if he drew attention to himself.
The trees seemed alive, breathing as they loomed over the young man. In his righthand periphery, he caught movement among a cluster of brush.
Nicolae turned in the direction, narrowing his eyes. “Sebastian?” He took a tentative step forward.
There was no answer, but the shadow moved toward him.
Nicolae maintained his stance, placing a hand on his dagger sheath. The emerging silhouette was too large to be an eleven-year-old boy.
“Who’s there?” Nicolae’s adrenaline rushed (the way it had the night they took Eloisa…) as the other presence continued into the clearing.
His eyes widened as he found himself facing the cloaked visitor from moments earlier. The black cloak hung just below the shin of high, black leather boots that pulled up over dark pants of a heavy wool material. As two swordsmen each challenging the other to a duel, the two individuals fixated on one another.
Nicolae considered the possibility of this visitor being a representative of the Domn. Perhaps a hired assassine. With that in mind, he tightened his grip on the handle of his dagger. 
“If you have done anything to hurt my brother, do not think I would hesitate to slice your throat.” I have done that and much more already...
If a fight to the death would ensue, Nicolae was prepared and willing. But to his surprise, the figure turned and started walking toward the black tangled woods.
Nicolae lowered his dagger, but never took his eyes from his opponent. The figure turned back, and with a leather-gloved hand, beckoned to the young man. 
“What do you want?" Nicolae asked. "Where is my brother? If you know, please tell me.”
The figure didn't answer, and instead motioned again for the young man to follow.
With his hand still on the dagger, Nicolae hesitated and took a quick glimpse from the figure to the neverending brush behind him. As he faced his visitor once again, it was apparent this cloaked individual was not going anywhere until Nicolae obeyed.
Drawing in a jagged breath, the young man slowly walked toward the dark shape. Sure enough, it turned its back and started into the forest.
Nicolae kept his eyes forward, maintaining a safe distance between himself and his new companion. As the two ventured deeper, the woods thickened and the red moon offered little light. Their footsteps were accentuated by the eerie silence.
He was careful to not lose sight of the black cloak, and kept all senses aware. The lack of forest life unsettled him greatly; not so much as a light breeze to move a single twig was present. After what seemed like an eternity, they finally arrived at the edge.
Nicolae caught up to where the cloaked individual stood and saw a rocky shoreline looking out to an ocean. The giant moon spread across the horizon while casting its red beams onto the waters. The site was mesmerizing to behold, and Nicolae fought the trance slipping into him as the tides splashed at his feet.
He turned his head, hoping for a better look at the cloaked individual. The physical build of a man was evident and the warm, heavy breeze carried from the ocean lifted the hood back just enough to reveal a thin slate of a mouth and a pronounced, pale jawline.
The man turned to meet Nicolae’s stare from beneath the shadow and gestured a black gloved hand toward the ocean.
Nicolae returned his gaze to the water and saw a boat approaching them. The vessel was built to resemble a Viking ship, curling up at both ends and appeared fashioned from the same thick, black wood of the forest trees.
As it drew closer, Nicolae was able to make out a dragon head carved into the front bow. The vessel was empty, moving on its own as if it knew where it needed to be.
Nicolae jumped back, shielding his ears with his hands as the vessel released what sounded like an unearthly high pitched roar while scraping onto the beach before coming to a stop in front of them. When all was still, the hooded man signaled for Nicolae to follow him on. The two sat across from one another with Nicolae facing out to sea. As the vessel left shore, it let out a massive creak that almost resembled an agonizing groan one might utter upon being sentenced to eternal damnation.
Perhaps I’ve died, Nicolae thought absently as the boat started to drift. I have died and I am being taken to Hell… Suddenly, he jolted to attention, his heart thudding rapidly at the realization.
Visions of Sebastian waking up beside his corpse assaulted him. What would his little brother do all alone?
Unable to hide his anxiety, Nicolae stared ahead at the giant moon as the boat glided over the vast waters. Anger toward the hooded man's calm, dignified demeanor churned and the urge to grab and strangle him with that cloak before throwing him overboard increased. But his attention was thwarted upon seeing an island appear in the distance.
Like the one they were at before, a thick forest of tall trees grew near the shoreline with the giant red moon hovering just beyond them. As the boat drew closer, a rather foul stench flowed out from the island's direction. Several of the trees also appeared to move...
Nicolae shifted and strained for a better look. Faint, violent choking and groans among throaty wretching reached his ears. As the boat approached shore, he tried focusing on the trees but was nearly suffocated by the growing stench. The cloaked man did not appear bothered at all.
Suddenly, he recognized the unpleasant odor and prayed it wasn't what he thought it was. He returned his gaze to the island as dread pulsed within. The trees were not trees at all.
His eyes widened as he beheld thousands of rotting human corpses impaled on large, wooden stakes and in various states of decay. There were also several that still grasped at their final shreds of life while hanging helplessly on the poles. The calls of scavenger birds from above blended with the agonized cries.
Nicolae turned his eyes skyward and saw shapes of crows, buzzards, and another avian creature that appeared almost reptilian. The boat let out another unsettling groan as it docked, and the cloaked man rose, glancing at Nicolae before stepping onto the rocky shore. The young man remained seated while watching the figure take slow, steady strides up the beach.
Nicolae turned his head back to the direction they had come from, viewing the red water that stretched into darkness. He considered swimming back to the other island. The boat ride hadn't been terribly long and Nicolae was a strong swimmer. There was great possibility that he could make it. But even if I do, then what?
Fearing damnation in Hell’s fiery pits, he looked to the black sky in search for any sign of God. What I did was justified. He equalled the Devil himself. How can you not see that?
The sky remained still with the cries of the impaled and the scavengers as his only response.
Defeated, he lowered his eyes and resigned himself to Fate. From the rocky shore, the cloaked man stared at Nicolae, obviously waiting for the young man to follow. Holding back tears, Nicolae was forced to acknowledge his limited choices.
He followed the cloaked figure into the forest of death, feeling the eyes of the suffering upon him (as HIS eyes were when you murdered him). Despite efforts at keeping his eyes forward, Nicolae caught site of a murder of crows perched on a wooden stake, tearing at the rotting flesh and muscle of a carcass. The corpse stared back at him with its face nearly eaten away. Chunks of meat still clung to the skull as an eyeball hung by a fiberous string from the socket and down to the jawline. The flesh around the mouth was gone, giving the corpse a permanent, hideous grin. It let out a strained moan, giving Nicolae’s stomach a jolt. He's still alive...
The young man turned his head, only to see other crows buzzards, and winged reptilian creatures landing on the stakes and limbs of the many other bodies.
I am certain they never go hungry here. The thought amused him slightly, but that disentigrated upon the reminder of this possibly becoming his own fate. All of them, they suffer and wish for death that never comes...
Heavy shame and hopelessness permeated his core. Eloisa, Sebastian…forgive me…
A clearing at the edge of the forest came into view, and Nicolae struggled to maintain his stance while anticipating what awaited him on the other side. An abyss, a fiery pit filled with bloodthirsty demons ready to tear me apart…
Nicolae felt anger and sorrow toward the unfairness of it all. How is he dead and going to Hell, leaving Sebastian all alone while Anton Alexanderescu is still alive?
As they neared the forest's edge, his legs trembled violently and threatened to collapse beneath him. He braced himself for the fiery Hellpit or impaling pole that awaited him. But upon their arrival, a scene that was far from what Nicolae was expecting greeted them.
Stretched before them was a beautiful, crisp green field with a blue sky decorated by white clouds overhead. Several feet away stood a small workshed, and further down was what appeared to be a two-story farmhouse. 
Nicolae looked up and saw the break in the sky that separated the black night from the bright, blue daylight. He slowly reached out and touched the tips of his fingers to a membrane barrier that guarded between the field and the island. That familiar surge raced through him as he withdrew his hand.
Hope had replaced his anguish. Perhaps he was not going to Hell after all.
He dared to question his cloaked companion. “Where are we? Is Eloisa here? When can I see her? And can we somehow go back and help Sebastian? Please, he is only a little boy.”
There was a pause before the cloaked man answered in a voice deep and raspy. “No, you cannot. And Eloisa is not here.”
Despair swelled up inside Nicolae. “Well can you please at least tell me why you have brought me here? I cannot spend an eternity without Eloisa. I may as well just go to Hell!” 
The man pointed toward the field. “Look.”
Nicolae turned back and saw two little boys about seven years of age chasing and kicking around a ball. Thick hair covered both their heads, though one was sandy and the other very dark. His emotions quelled as he watched them, taking in how happy and carefree they were while experiencing simple pleasures of childhood, something he had very little of growing up. He also felt a familiarity with the boys and remembered the vision of the two babies from over a fortnight ago.
As he strained for a better look, the magnetic shield dissolved and day shifted into night. Cool autumn air accompanied the fragrance of fallen leaves, and the boys and their innocent game of chasing a ball had vanished.
“It is safe to cross over, if you wish to do so,” the cloaked man said. He stepped forward onto the field before Nicolae followed.
As they walked onto the field, the island disappeared behind them and was replaced by a lush forest colored with leaves of the season.
“Death has not taken you," the man added. "That is not why you are here. But I am afraid I cannot tell you more beyond what I already have.”
Nicolae’s brow furrowed. “Will I be taken back to my brother?”
A late harvest moon shone on the emblem etched into the clasp that fastened the man’s cloak. Nicolae recognized the seal as belonging to the Order of the Dragon and wondered how he hadn't noticed it before.
The man slowly turned to Nicolae, who quickly looked away before they continued across the field. They passed the shed and came to a stop within a few feet from the colonial farmhouse and large oak tree that stood at its side. Beneath the oak, a tall, sandy-haired young man with a lean, solid build embraced a petite raven-haired young woman.
The love radiating from the young couple was a cruel reminder of what he once had with Eloisa.
Nicolae's stomach turned as gruesome details of the last night he saw her alive re-entered his mind. He forced away the thoughts as the two lovers parted their embrace, still holding on to one another as they spoke in English, a language Nicolae knew only a few words of. Then, the idea of somehow learning more of that language occurred to him, especially if he was going to be taking Sebastian to live in America. 
He looked to the cloaked man, who also stood regarding the young couple. Nicolae could sense emotional pain, as if the man had also experienced a great loss. For a moment, he felt remorse.
Suddenly, the man spoke again. “It continues.”
As the man turned to face Nicolae, the young man saw facial features beneath the hood…

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