PRICES GO UP AT THE GATE
I've been working on this story for a while now, and I was wondering if I could get some feedback. Thanks for taking the time to read it!
Its a fantasy set in the country of Albainia, centered around a civil war. The story revolves around seven point of view characters, each trying to make the world what they desire.
Tags: Action, Adventure, Political Thriller, War, Epic Fantasy, (to a lesser extent) Romance
I think that is all I will say for now It is a giant story that is best explained through reading the actual text.
As a warning, there is some bad language. Its PG-13.
The Liar's Game
Mise en Abyme 1: The World Reborn
In which we both begin and end…
“The best stories are stories that have happened. Stories of those who came before us. Much can be learned from history, my dear boy. Never, ever underestimate the past. For there is a reason those stories are called history – the word itself literally means “his story”. It is important – not like those made up things your wet-nurse always tells you. Filling your head with useless nonsense, filling your empty head with space filling cotton – it is little wonder you are so rambunctious these days. With notions of fairie folk and all the like. Nonsense. Useless, utter nonsense.” The old historian spat as he hobbled about his library, hunched over, his cane tapping here and there upon the polished wooden floor as he went.
“Can I go play now? I don’t much like history or his story, or what-cha-ma call it. Can I? Please?” Atticus pleaded from his seat at his desk, looking the picture of absolute misery. He pouted, his face planted heavily in a bored hand as he grasped his best quill in his other, doodling dragons in black ink upon his parchment instead of doing his arithmetic. His tutor was too busy straitening one of the many musty old books in his collection with a shaky, atrophying hand to notice that his pupil was off task.
“My answer is the same as it was a few minutes ago, Atticus, and will remain the same for the duration of the time you are in my charge. No.”
The old man stroked his pure white beard that hung down to his potbelly as he contemplated whether it would be better to file the Tales of Grimwulf and Skorromir in the history or the myth section of the library. It was a difficult decision, seeing as the work’s historical merit was dubious at best.
“No buts. Your mother has tasked me with teaching you the skills you need to be a successful young man. And I will do just that. You may play after we have completed all your tasks for today.” The old man chided as he stooped to dust off one of his beloved books on the lowest shelf.
“But I wanna go play with my friends. The festival is today,” Whined Atticus pathetically, as he stared out the window that was in front of his desk. Outside, the city children were playing a game of tag, ducking and dodging through the crowd of commonfolk that had come to Anncantale for the festival. He could almost hear them giggling and laughing without him.
“Want to not wanna, Atticus! Why must I always tell you that?”
Atticus sighed heavily.
The old man hobbled over to his young charge. He studied the boy for a moment.
Then let the guise of sternness fall away.
“Atticus,” Hugo said softly, taking pity on him. “There is something very important I wanted to teach you today. After I tell you what it is, you can decide whether or not you would like to stay and learn, or go out and play. I have decided that I will not hold you either way, but I feel that you will want stay once I tell you. Do we have a deal, young one?”
Atticus nodded enthusiastically, planning to entertain the old man for just a few moments more. There was no way he was going to stay inside while there was a festival going on.
“Can you tell me your middle names, please?” Asked the old man in a quiet voice. He gripped his cane with both hands, attempting to calm his quavering frail body.
Atticus looked up from the window, confused. He turned to his teacher, gazing quizzically at him with his emerald green eyes. He pushed the strands of white blonde hair out from in front of his face.
“But – Hugo – you already know my middle names,” Atticus laughed, befuddled. His voice came out quashed, higher than he intended for it to be in his confusion.
Hugo smiled slightly. “I know your names. But the question is, do you?”
Atticus’s brow furrowed. “Alistair Wilhelm . Why did you want me to say them?”
The old man chuckled. “Do you know why you have two middle names?” He sat down in his favorite padded chair beside Atticus’s desk, his joints creaking as much as the old wood of the chair as it strained to take on his weight.
“I… I thought everyone had two middle names.”
Hugo laughed, and quickly fell into a fit of coughing. He sputtered, and then regained control of himself. He took a steadying breath. “Not very many people have two. Of course, not many people are named after heroes who came before them, either,” He hesitated, glancing towards the young blonde boy before continuing. Atticus stared at him, listening. “Your mother and I have decided it’s time we tell you about your heritage – your history. You are old enough now. It’s time we told you about the Great War – about the Silver Dragon , the Black Demon of the Night and the Murderer King . About the Lady Liones s, the Titian’s Fist , and the Angel . And most of all about the Liar – the man who both destroyed and remade this Kingdom. It is time you knew about the follies and the triumphs of your ancestors. It is time we told you about the heroes who made this land peaceful again, a peace that you must ensure continues when you are grown, and we are old and gone.”
Hugo looked at Atticus, stroking his beard. The boy stared at him intently, his innocent emerald green eyes wide with interest.
“Wait…” The boy asked, his voice hopeful. “Does this mean you’re going to tell me about my dad? You’re finally going to tell me?”
“Yes.” Hugo smiled, “But if you’d rather go to the festival that is acceptable as well…”
“No – No. I think I’d rather hear this now.”
Hugo raised an eyebrow incredulously. He wasn’t convinced.
“Please?” Atticus pleaded. “I promise I’ll do all my chores without being asked to for a full week – and uh – I’ll do my math… I guess. Just please tell me. I wanna know. I wanna know what he did, why everyone respects and loves him so much.”
Hugo smiled. “Well then,” He cleared his throat and began stroking his white beard again. “I think it best to start long before you were born, before even your father was born –“
“Aren’t you going to read from one of your history books?” Atticus asked, interrupting, slightly offended. “Or are you just making this up?”
Hugo snorted, a little insulted. “I’ll have you know I need no book for this, I was there –“
“You were there?!” Atticus never would have guessed that the old historian would have ever been involved in anything interesting. He was always so intent on having boring peace and quiet.
“Yes, I knew both your father and your grandfather. I traveled with both – now, no more interruptions or no more story!”
“Now – where was I?” Asked the old historian.
“The part where you were going to start before my father was born.”
“Ah, yes. It is best to start long ago – on the night of the Fall of the Dellatone. When Queen Adrianna ruled these lands in a tumultuous time of upheaval… The night when this world changed forever…”
1. The Decent into Darkness
Before that day no one had ever known true darkness.
“Run Addie! Just keep moving!” bellowed the young soldier behind her in between heaving breaths, seizing her thin arm and pushing her to run faster, his voice filled with panic and anger. His feet hammered heavily upon the stone steps of the tower as they thundered down the winding stairs surging for the only solace they had left. Adrianna’s breath came in ragged gasps as her legs moved heavy as led, her muscles screaming and clawing at her bones, blackness encroaching upon her vision. They had been running for hours, dodging the rebelling soldiers that had sided with Serpentine as the night violently displaced the day. Her whole being hurt and her mind was slow consumed with fatigue and terror. They descended as fast as they could, stone stairs whipping by underneath her exhausted feet. The wind whipped at her face, causing the gashes cut by swords to sting and break back open, hot red blood streaming down her cheeks like tears. Behind her, her valiant protector furtively glanced over his shoulder in fear as he drew the royal sword, the twin dragons of the Dellatone curling about his hands, the precious metal of their gold and silver wings shining even in the ominous flickering darkness of the castle. In the center of the pommel a multifaceted azure sapphire was set, sparkles dancing across its shining surface as it reflected the ruddy light of the trembling and terrified flames around it. It was strange, how natural and perfect the Sapphire Star looked in his hands yet how out of place and awkward it had always looked in hers.
I am too kind for this type of life. I was never suited for rule.
Yet, he was. He always had been, which was why she had grown to admire him. She respected him because he was strong, passionate, caring, and loved him because to her, he was perfect. He was everything she had ever wanted to be – and everything she was not. He was the one that deserved to be King – Adrianna had never wanted the throne, power never had interested her – she only had wanted freedom from the expectations and useless rules that bound noble born women. She had only accepted the role she had been born into because she sought to protect the people of her beloved nation. To her, that sword represented only obligations and chains of responsibility. It was a relic of a golden age that had long since passed and been forgotten. But to him, that sword was a tool of great power, a welcome responsibility that he was more than capable of wielding in defense of his love and her nation.
Why can’t he be King. Why –
“ADRIANNA!” It was a screech unlike any other. It was the sound of absolute hatred and pain, the sound of a mad man with nothing left to lose, no one left to love. A crash sounded through the tower as their pursuer broke through the reinforced metal door floors above. Adrianna forced herself to surge forward with a new burst of speed even though she was reaching her limit. She prayed he wouldn’t be able to hear the pounding of her and her lover’s footsteps as they charged down the stairs towards the only safety left in this castle.
No! Goddess – No!
Several floors above them, a young man, with narrowed eyes as red as the tongues of flames, burst through the splinters of what had been the door, landing atop the stone steps with a violent crash. His long, greasy black hair flew in front of his eyes. He pushed it back with a jerky swipe of his thin hand. He scanned the stairwell with murderous intent.
“Where are you, Adrianna? Where are you, little maiden killer? Where are you, whore?! Come out, come out, wherever you are –“ Sang her young adopted son in his cracking adolescent voice, “Come out, little whore queen, let me kill you now – or would you rather I burn this whole city to the ground?” He chuckled. Adrianna’s lover pushed her faster down the steps, closer towards safety. “No – not just this whole city. The whole city is not enough. You have caused me so much pain… I shall require a more painful price to be satisfied,” He hesitated, listening, attempting to hear her footsteps. Adrianna turned a corner in the stairwell, and the door to sanctuary appeared, searing her vision with the light of hope. Only a few more steps… “I will burn this whole country to the ground! How do you like that, Adrianna?! HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT! HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE THE REASON YOUR PUPS WILL BURN, WOLF QUEEN?! HOW MANY INNOCENTS WILL DIE BECAUSE YOU REFUSE TO GIVE YOURSELF UP TO ME TO ATTONE FOR YOUR SINS?!”
I didn’t hurt you, Dayyan! She wanted to scream, to help him reconcile with his pain of the loss of the woman he loved. I didn’t hurt Sara! I loved that beautiful peasant girl. I wanted you to be with her more than anything – what did Edmund do to you? What did he say? Why do you believe I – me of all people, who is in the same predicament as you – Why would you think I killed the woman you loved?
Adrianna’s shoe suddenly clipped the corner of the wall and she crashed towards the stone steps. She cried out in surprise. The soldier lunged forward, wrapping his arms around her protectively as they hit the stairs together with a great force. They slid down the stone steps, sliding to the base of the door that led to safety. Adrianna heard a soft thump as her lover’s head collided with the reinforced door. He clutched her lovingly close, wincing from the pain of the fall, just as dazed from the pain of his endless amounts of wounds as she was.
Beside her, the Sapphire Star tumbled to the ground. Adrianna’s beloved soldier had chosen to drop the sword in order to protect her. But in choosing to protect her, he had ensured their doom.
As if in slow motion, Adrianna watched the razor sharp blade float gracefully through the air, its sapphire steel blade edging ever closer to the stone steps. It was beautiful, golden – men had killed entire peoples just to hold that sword – yet Adrianna realized it was gilded. Fake. A killing machine, clothed in finery befitting a king. This sword was everything her family had ever embodied, the symbol of their royalty, the only one the Dellatone had ever possessed. That was when Adrianna realized what this meant. The reflected light of the fire that consumed the castle consumed the blade, just as the destruction of this war would come to consume her country. After this night, her beloved country, her beloved people would know peace no more. The blade spiraled through the air, edging closer to the floor, as it and her entire world descended into darkness.
The Sapphire Star hit the stone steps with a resounding, thunderous clang, sounding louder than a gong in the cramped passageway. The sound echoed about, defiling Adrianna’s virgin ears. Her heart fell as absolute despair gripped her.
Then, with a shrill laugh of demented triumph, floors above, Dayyan’s thin body lurched down the stairs with inhuman speed towards the woman he sought to kill. The sound of his heavy boots resounded throughout the passageway as he thundered ever closer.
Adrianna’s murky mind slowly fought through the fog of pain. She forced herself to stand, pushing herself up to one knee. Then, the other. Every muscle in her body screamed with pain, the uncountable number of gashes that she had amassed from all of her injuries during her plight broke open, staining her already destroyed clothing with a new, fresh tint of red. Beside her, her lover attempted to stand, before crashing back to the floor. Adrianna panicked.
He’s hurt worse than I am. Oh, Goddess save us –
She gripped him by the shoulder, helping him to his feet. Blood seeped from the new wound on top of his head, and his normally strong grip felt weak as she tried to lift him up. He mumbled a soft phrase, weakly.
The sounds of Dayyan’s decent grew louder as he drew closer. Her protector leaned on her in order to remain standing, as the shuffled towards the door. Adrianna shoved it open with what little strength she had left and limped through the door with her lover.
“No –“ Her protector said quietly, before slipping out of her grip and falling back to his knees. He staggered back to the stairwell, using what little strength he had left. He reached for the discarded sword, his fingers outstretched, grasping at air, grasping for what he knew had been the symbol of the soul of her beloved kingdom.
A soul that was now gone, replaced by fire and death. The sword was only metal now, nothing more.
“What are you doing?!” She cried, tears inadvertently flooding out of her eyes in desperation. She shuffled toward him, reaching for her lover, grasping the back of his chain mail just as his hands found the pommel of the sword. She pulled him back towards the safety that the room offered, but he was moving too slow.
A devilish screech assaulted her ears. It was too close, much too close. Adrianna heaved her lover towards the door with strength she didn’t realize she had. He cried out in pain. One step more… just one step –
“DIE!” Roared Dayyan as he sprinted around the corner of the staircase with unbelievable speed. He charged at her, the razor sharp blade of his rapier leveled at her. She shuffled faster, almost back to the threshold. But she was much too slow.
She tripped over the threshold of the door, falling to the floor. Her protector fell ungracefully beside her. She whirled about, her brown hair covered in sweat slung in front of her eyes. Dayyan was almost to her. There was nowhere to go. Nowhere to run. The blade was so close to her face.
Death was a foot away. She couldn’t move, paralyzed by fear and exhaustion.
So this is how I die.
She thought of her wonderful soldier. One last time.
And of the secret she never had told him.
Dayyan devilish smile widened, distorting his face.
The heavy reinforced door slammed shut. There was a loud smack as Dayyan’s razor sharp blade embedded itself into the door. He screamed in outrage, hammering the door with his fists as he tried to pry his sword out of the oak. Her protector barred the door shut by slamming the wooden bar into place in the slots behind the door, his chest heaving with the effort of fighting against the pain of his wounds. He fell to his knees beside her, letting the royal sword fall to the ground.
We are still alive. She couldn’t believe it.
Ignoring the sounds of Dayyan’s angry screeching outside, she looked toward her lover. He was covered in blood, his face and skin gashed, his hair matted with sweat and blood, and his shoulder looked as if it had been hurt from the fall. Everything was painful to him, even breathing. His body was broken, and it was all her fault.
All my fault.
She began to sob. She threw her arms around her soldier and held him tight. He winced at the pressure, yet pulled her closer, swallowing the pain.
“I know… I know,” he said softly, understanding her unsaid words. With his good arm, he combed his fingers through her hair lovingly, attempting to calm her down. “Addie –“ He began reluctantly, trying to be strong even though his voice was shaking. “We aren’t safe yet. We can’t stay here. That door won’t hold him back forever. We need to go.”
“Where? There is nowhere,” she said in between sobs. She held him tighter, burying her head in his chest, clutching his hauberk in her hands. “I’m so scared.” She looked up at him with bleary eyes, “I can’t lose you. Not you. Not anyone else.”
“You? Scared?” The soldier forced a laugh, but it came out quashed. “No, no, no. My Addie is never scared. Why, you weren’t scared when you took on that Great Bear with a stick, now where you? What about when you stood in front of the Goddess and everyone and announced you were not going to marry Edmund Vance?” He smiled as he cupped her chin, lifting her head up so their eyes met. “Now, that was brave – you weren’t scared then. What’s a little mother-stepson disagreement when compared with that?” He gently pushed her off, and struggled to his feet, lifting her up to her feet with one arm as easily as one would lift a sack of potatoes. He took her hand, and started moving forward, guiding her towards some unknown destination.
The sound of Dayyan’s relentless hacking at the wood door grew louder. Her protector navigated the tightly packed furniture of the room carefully, heading towards a dimly lit closet. Adrianna had never seen this room before, for it had never been used by her family. All the furniture was covered in white tablecloths and the fireplace had never been lit.
“Now granted,” her soldier continued, trying to keep up his optimistic attitude, “The kid has some serious mental problems that need to be addressed, and a really sharp sword… a serious vendetta… and a group of bloodthirsty knuckleheads who all seem hell bent on hurting you - but hey, that’s nothing I can’t handle - I mean, I’ve done this before, haven’t I? Many times.” He paused, turning to smile at her, “I’ve always saved you, Addie,” He opened the door to the dimly lit closet. He crouched down and pulled back a thin, moth eaten rug, folding it over itself.
“And I always will. You’ll be fine.” He began tapping at the floorboards, seemingly looking for something. Adrianna crouched down beside him, examining the floor.
What is he looking for?
The hacking at the door grew to a deafening pitch.
Adrianna looked up. “And what about you? I can’t lose you –“
He took her hand, pausing in his search. He looked her in the eyes. “You’ll never lose me, Addie. I’ll always be yours. I’ll always be with you, to the very end. I swear upon my life and my honor, my queen.”
Finally, he found what he was looking for. His fingers grasped a small lever that was disguised as a floorboard. He pulled it sharply. The floor next to Adrianna sprang upwards, revealing a hidden trap door. She peered into it. Through the hole, the wind howled ominously, and darkness swallowed all that entered its bowels.
“This is our way out. It’s the only way out, unfortunately, and it’s quite an unhealthy drop…”
Adrianna looked at him fearfully.
Her soldier sighed, again understanding her silent protest. “I know, I know. Believe me, if there was any other way – we’ll have to go through one at a time. It spits out into the river Valborn far below. From there we’ll swim to the bank, and then make our way to Volta. We are going to see your cousin, Adrianna –“
“I hate that woman. She’s vile –“ She scowled, sniffing back tears.
“Listen!” He ordered her, pressing a finger against her lips, urging her to be silent. “She may be vile, she may be vulgar – but she’s likely the only one that can offer us safe refuge. So, no arguments! That is where we are going.” He grasped her by the arm, and led her closer to the edge of the trap door, the hole that led into the dark abyss of the night. Adrianna felt queasy looking into it for she could see no bottom.
“I need you to go first, I’ll follow so I can make sure the door closes behind you. Wait for me in the Silent Gardens, underneath the tree we first kissed. I’ll meet you there in an hour – if not, continue on to Volta without me. Your life is much more important than mine. You’re all the good that is left in this country. We need to make sure you survive -”
“I won’t!” She cried. Her voice failed her. She threw her arms around him again. “I can’t. I can’t leave without you.”
“You won’t have to. I’ll be there in an hour. I swear, Addie. I swear upon my honor.”
“You promise? You won’t do anything reckless-“
Suddenly, there was a tremendous crash in the room outside the closet. Metal shrieked as it bent and tore. Adrianna could hear the devilish laughing again, and her heart stopped.
Dayyan’s breaking through!
The soldier pushed her towards the brink of the abyss. Adrianna grabbed a hold of him, her feet slipping along the floorboards, forcing him to stop.
“Wait! There is something I need to tell –“
Quickly, he threw his arms around her one last time, and kissed her longingly, lovingly. That was when she realized something. She froze solid.
No. NO! HE WOULDN’T!
“I know, Addie. I love you, too,” He hesitated, looking at her one last time. “More than anything. There is no time! Go!”
The secret! I have to tell him- “Wait! That’s not –“
He shoved her into the abyss.
Adrianna fell, reaching for him before she was swallowed by the darkness of the escape tunnel. The last thing the soldier would ever see of the woman he loved was her tears, which glistened like diamonds in the moonlight. Tears – this time not for fear, but instead for him, for Adrianna had discovered in that instant that her beloved soldier was not following her.
The hacking had stopped. The soldier knew what that meant in the pit of his stomach. He sighed heavily, before closing the trap door and pulling the rug back over the floorboards, disguising the fact that there had ever been anything there except dust.
“I’m sorry, Addie. I’m so, so sorry. But in the end, it looks like I still have the honor of a traitor’s son. Shit for honor. You always knew that, but you still believed me. You still loved me,” He stood, picking up the Sapphire Star. “Even though you knew - once you thought about it – that there is no way to close the door to that tunnel from the inside. No way for two people to escape. One would have to die.” He pushed open the closet door, and limped out into the previously vacant room, his legs barely able to support him. He was in no condition to fight.
“I always loved you, Addie.”
He spoke to her as if she was there.
“Forever and Always… Until the very end.”
Dayyan was waiting for him.
Adrianna cried helplessly as she fell.
LIAR! You’re such a liar! A stupid honorable, heroic liar!
The wind born from her fall tore her tears away as she sobbed. They floated above her weightless as she left them behind. She fought back a scream as she plummeted, further and further down into the darkness.
I love you too. More than you will ever realize. But that wasn’t what I was going to tell you.
Adrianna was blinded by moonlight, as she was spit out of the tunnel and into the light of the night. She could see the flames that consumed her castle, and her kingdom. But she was numb. She could feel no more. Everything she had ever wanted, everyone that she had ever loved was gone. All she could think of was the secret, the secret she never told him. She found no greater sorrow than knowing that he never had known her greatest happiness.
Happiness that should have been theirs together.
Inside her womb, his daughter kicked.
The murky waters of the great river Valborn swallowed her whole, as she and her baby disappeared without a trace.
There is more where that came from! But I am only going to post it if you enjoyed the first part and want to hear more. Vote up for the next two chapters!
Also, please comment with any feedback. Let me know what you think.
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