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Available Now - The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis

It's here at last. Currently available on Amazon through its Kindle and CreateSpate platforms, The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis is a ...

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Preview - The Leviathan Chronicle; Chapter 1

The following is the complete first chapter of my upcoming novel The Leviathan Chronicle; Genesis (provisional title). Set in a warn torn fantasy land, we see the forces of Sur fighting against the Crusader army of the Seraphic Church. As one soldier succumbs, they are greeted by a mysterious observer, and given a second chance...



Chapter I
Power of Retribution


24th August 1111 of the 11th Cycle (C11), Ramliah Fortress


The roars of attackers and the cries of the dying were nothing compared to the bellow of Mastema’s heart, and the battle cry resounding in his throat. With a battle cry to quell the bravest heart, his enhanced fists broke any Crusader they touched. But unlike other fighters on the field, he was unbloodied; his damage was done to the inside of enemies, exploding organs and pulverising muscle and bone without breaking the skin. His gauntlets looked the part; thick leather objects with symbols printed over the knuckles. Those symbols, translated from archaic poetic script, read as “Come and feel sweet death by my fists”.
Prince Mastema!’
Mastema turned, his luscious black locks flowing around his broad, smooth-lined face. A soldier of Sur was approaching from the fortress’s single entrance.
What is it?’ Mastema’s reply was sharp.
You must remain inside, Highness. Even with your gift, it is dangerous.’
The safety of our people comes first. Do you think I care about my own life? And you risk their lives to find me while I fight. How can you be so thoughtless!?’
The soldier turned and saw Crusaders approaching the guarded gateway accompanied by a single Machina. This mighty humanoid automaton was one of a score roaming the battlefield, picking up Sur soldiers with their pincers and shredding them with barely any effort. Mastema ran towards the Machina, which sensed his presence and turned to defend the Crusaders. In the Machina’s eyeless sight, driven by clockwork and unnamed sihr, Mastema signified this land’s allegiance with the fallen ones, making him the supreme enemy.
While the undefended Crusaders were cut down by a small force that came from the fortress to fight with their prince, Mastema had quickly broken past the Machina’s pincers and slammed his foot into its leg. It was thrown off balance against the wall, then Mastema climbed up to the centrepiece on its chest. Tearing it away, he reached in, grasped its mechanical heart and tore it out with a frenzied cry. As he threw the crushed heart down and jumped off the collapsing Machina, he landed on a Crusader soldier. The soldier tried to plead, but a single mighty punch by Mastema broke his voice and neck.
Elsewhere on the battlefield, another soldier of Sur called out. ‘Lady Astarte! Lady Astarte!’
A moment!’
The soldier’s cry was coming from a few metres away, where a strong defensive circle had been created. Astarte swung her sword around and bisected the two Crusader footsoldiers who attacked her. Their limbs crumpled and they fell like puppets with severed strings. She then rushed to the defence of her fellows, her sword sailing beside her and striking down any enemy foolish enough to stand their ground. Leaping into the defended area, she came up beside the soldier.
What is it?’
Lady Astarte, we cannot hold the line much longer.’
We must. The fortress must not fall to these scum.’
But those ballistae are decimating our reserves.’
Astarte turned and saw the great catapults and crossbows on the farther edge of the battlefield sending their missiles towards the rear of their ranks and the walls of the fortress. She gripped her blade’s hilt.
Hold for as long as you can. I will fell those sorry machines.’
Before the soldier could protest, she leapt out into the fray once again, bringing her sword down into the Crusader ranks that threatened her fellows in faith and freedom. The blade had already become spattered by the blood of dozens, but it was soon turned a glutinous crimson with the fluids and physical detritus of battle. The humming of projectiles shot from the ballistae made the air hum, and as she closed her eyes to protect them from spatter, she used that sound to guide her.
When she reached them, she leapt up onto the nearest one’s wheel and slammed her sword down onto the woman controlling it. The enemy’s head was smashed into fragments, and another swing caused a crucial rope to snap and the entire structure to tear itself apart as the great arrow launched. The power behind the propulsion was lost and the arrow slammed down onto the ground before toppling, killing several Crusader soldiers.
Astarte then ran along one of the arms of the disintegrating bow, leaping onto the next ballista and slamming her sword into its centre. The wood was cut to its heart, weakened so that when the mechanism was fired, the wood snapped at the recoil and blew it into two halves that smashed into its neighbours. The soldier saw the weakness, but his faith in the Seraphim’s protection blinded him to the risks. Astarte herself was thrown from the ballista by the force of its self-destruction, coming down into a mass of enemy soldiers.
Swinging her sword around her in a lethal arc, she decapitated two, amputated limbs from another, and forced the others to jump back in fear of their lives. She continued to run forward, slicing and smashing through any defence that was offered. It was this merciless onslaught that caught the attention of a nearby Machina. Its guiding will stirred and sang its wishes. The Machina swivelled round and began pivoting forward, its arms reaching out to grasp the sword that was killing the all-important serfs of the Seraphim.
When it reached Astarte’s location, she was already up on another ballista and hacking its operator to pieces. Raising her sword to break the machine, she saw the Machina’s shadow rise behind her, and barely avoided its lethal grasp. The murderous automaton reached after her, continuing to pivot forward as Astarte skirted round the ballistae and used them as cover, striking down their operators when they tried to stop her. As she ran further down the line and past those she had already broken, she heard the whizzing sound of arrows overhead, and felt the sting of a short-fallen arrow striking her thigh.
Ignoring the pain, she continued running, pursued by the Machina and barely hindered by Crusader soldiers. Under the light of the sun, the blood on her sword and clothing looked a congealed purple, and songwriters of later times would cast her as the goddess of battle and death taking her due. The Machina was almost on top of her and swinging down to crush her when she darted to one side. It adjusted its swing, but could not halt it in time to stop it from striking another ballista in the midst of firing. The missile went askew and landed in the midst of Crusader ranks: it was an explosive missile, and when it impacted, sundry metal fragments shot out and skewered anyone within range.
Astarte took this chance to clamber up onto a rocky outcrop that acted as a firing position for enemy archers. As she climbed, she cut at the archers’ legs, making them fall to the ground below. Another arrow lodged itself in her shoulder, but she cared little. All she wanted to do was to reach a position where she could fight the Machina on equal terms. Reaching the top, she turned to see it still advancing on her. As she raised her sword, she felt the blood flowing from her wounds, but she blocked the pain from her mind. The Machina raised its hands once again to strike her down, but she leapt up and over its swipe to land on its arm.
Running along the arm, she leapt across and down, driving her sword into its chest up to the hilt. The blade missed its mark by a few millimetres, but other vital lines were cut to its mechanical heart. The automaton whirled around, a whole quarter of its body shutting down from the damage. Despite this internal damage, it still pivoted forwards towards allied lines. Astarte, clinging to her sword, was beginning to grow faint from blood loss, and all that was in her mind was the destruction of this monstrous thing. She slowly heaved herself up, and using the sword as a balancing pole, she jumped up to its top. From there, she was able to hook her foot into her sword’s hilt and yank it out and up into her hand.
Drawing a deep breath, plunged her sword a second time into the Machina. This time, the blade cleaved its heart in two, triggering a juddering shut-down of all its workings, throwing Astarte around to dangle in front of its chest again. It swayed, then tipped forwards onto its chest. As the ground came rushing up to meet her, Astarte closed her eyes and embraced her meaningful death.


Unknown


Asmodeus awoke as a new candidate appeared. Asleep in darkness, it rarely felt a bloodlust this strong, a will to fight this violent, a wish to live this intense. The feeling, the spirit approaching its realm, made everything around them shimmer and distort. Yes, this was not one of the tepid souls touched by the Seraphim’s lies, nor those lulled by the saccharine words of the “Scions”. This one knew the truth of the world. This one knew that the world was cruel, and they exploited that cruelty for reasons of their own. That was the kind who thrived in its world, the kind that Asmodeus could use.
The thing rose from the limitless void below and landed a few “paces” from Asmodeus. It approached the form and reached out. Its touch caused shivers to run through the woman who had fallen into its realm, and prompted her to “wake”. Her form, at first inconstant, took on solidity. She lay naked in Asmodeus’s realm. Glancing round, she quickly saw Asmodeus and shuffled back in shock. What stood before her was neither male or female, and the wing-like appendages flowing in and out of existence behind it gave the impression of an omnipresent mist.
Who are you?’
A voice came from the apparition. A voice neither male nor female. A voice that echoed all around and within her, like the song of eternity.
I am known by many names. The one I prefer, and the one you may address me by, is Asmodeus. You are physically dead.’
Astarte nodded slowly. ‘Yes. I guessed as much. That Machina fell on me when I destroyed its core.’
But you can have the chance to live again.’
Live? How?’
Asmodeus leaned forward slowly. Its voice was barely a whisper.
Concord.’
Astarte stared at the being. ‘You jest, of course.’
No. I never jest when talking of Concord with such a strong spirit.’
Why do you wish it with me? I know that the gift has been granted to a few, like the Zalamsada royal family...’
Theirs would be the accord with my sibling Orobas. But I propose more of a short-term partnership. I will restore life to you for the rest of your natural days, in return for your temporary service to me.’
What is “temporary”?’
A small number of years, or maybe only months. A fleeting time for one such as I, and not so great a time for one such as you.’
How can you suggest one as lowly as I form Concord with–?’
You need not feign ignorance. You come from noble blood, as near to royal as your friend Mastema, if not more so. You have adopted the trappings of a common soldier to gain your vengeance. If you are disinterested in continued life, I can offer you a prolonged chance at vengeance.’
After what felt like an eternity, Astarte responded. ‘What gifts would I hold?’
Asmodeus’s whisper was like vinegar and sweet syrup. ‘Access to energies of creation and destruction, beyond all imagining. At my discretion on occasion.’
Considering seemed inappropriate, and so was discarded. Any thought was tempered by the knowledge of her unknown fate if she accepted death. The temptation was too much to resist for her.
I accept. I accept your offer.’
Then... Grant me your name, and speak mine own.’
My name is Astarte Sasan, the daughter of Khosrau Sasan. By my name and the name of my father, I submit to Concord with the Power Asmodeus, until I have fulfilled my duty.’
Asmodeus slowly lowered itself over Astarte, reaching round and lifting her up towards its face. ‘And I, the Power Asmodeus, accept Concord with Astarte Sasan, the daughter of Khosrau Sasan, for as long as I see fit. As my partner in Concord, I grant thee your new name: Arima.’
And with this vow, Asmodeus kissed Astarte with the power and passion of a lover, and Concord was established.


Ramliah Fortress


The Machina was catapulted into the air and landed on the outcrop, stunning everyone fighting around it. The Crusaders in particular were shocked by what they saw. Astarte was slowly rising to her feet, whole and hearty, holding her sword at the ready. No-one could understand. The weight of the Machina should have obliterated her, yet here she stood unscathed and sword in hand. Astarte herself was just as stunned, looking round her and up at the prone Machina. What had happened? Had she dreamt of that being? That... Power?
There was a sudden whizzing sound. A nearby Crusader archer was firing at her, but the arrow never reached its target. As if in answer to her will, the arrow was engulfed in flames. The wood disintegrated into ash and the arrowhead landed at Astarte’s feet. The archer looked dumbfounded, then terrified, then he began running back towards a group of Crusader soldiers. It took mere seconds for Astarte to overtake and smite him, then she started cutting her way through those same Crusaders. Her blade was dampened with fresh blood, and the news of her survival spread through the armies. The Crusaders were struck dumb with terror, while the defenders gave a rousing cheer that spread through all their ranks.
That cheer was short-lived, as two more Machina were approaching, drawn by the death of their comrade and the appearance of a new threat. Astarte was just slamming her blade down into the nose of a ballista, sending its front splintering in all directions when she saw the Machina approach. She could feel the new gift inside her, but she still did not know how to bring it to bear on them. As she raised her sword and the automatons prepared to attack, a voice echoed in her ear. A familiar voice neither male nor female.
Draw upon my gift to you, Arima. Fell all those who stand before you and proudly flaunt your enemy’s colours.’
Astarte felt a burning inside her, a furnace in her heart. She raised her sword, and it became wrapped in flames and smoke-like shadows. As the Machina’s arms neared, she swung her sword down, sending waves of fire towards the two. They were thrown back, and the waves sliced clean through their arms. Astarte looked down at her sword, then at her arms: the latter were glowing with energy. One of the Machina regained its balance and advanced again, but Astarte avoided its mighty stomp and swung at it with her arm. Where before there would have been the snap of human bone, there was an almighty “shcump-crack” as the Machina’s limb was torn from its socket by the blow.
The automaton fell on its side, and Astarte swung her sword again. A dark wave of energy sliced through the automaton, splitting its heart in two. The shuddering sound as its innards were rent asunder caused many surrounding soldiers to pause or start. The second Machina tried to follow its fellow’s example and crush Astarte beneath its foot, but she avoided it and began to swing her sword again. Before she could complete the movement, another Crusader’s thrown blade smote the weapon from her hand. Falling a few metres from her, she stood and watched as the Machina turned towards her and advanced once more.
Do not be so easily felled.’ the voice whispered again. ‘Strike. Strike! Show your true gifts. Show my gifts to you.’
The name came to her. The name she had been given. She felt its power, and raised her hand. A Sigil appeared around her fingers and a torrent of fire flowed up and around the Machina. It swung and swerved, trying to fight the flames, but the heat and power were too great. The Machina’s ceramic outer casing cracked and its insides were fused into a mass of molten alloys. When the flames died, it was frozen in place, transformed into a grotesque statue of defeat.
Everyone near the spectacle froze, including Crusader soldiers. Astarte turned to them, then gestured. Every single Crusader within ten feet of her burst into flames. Amid shocked or agonised screams, she retrieved her sword and began her rampage anew, cutting down any enemy within view. She quickly began turning back towards the surviving ballistae, which were being pulled back to a better firing position. As she approached them, the voice sounded again, humming all around her.
You tapped this world’s inner fire. Now see its surface. Strong and stern, the true Earth of stone and dust. Summon it to do your will.’
Astarte glanced down at her sword. It gleamed with new Sigils, and she stopped and drove it into the ground. The earth heaved beneath the ballistae and they were swallowed. Dust and rock fragments flew, screams rose from the operators before they were buried in the sand, and the missiles about to be fired were either sent askew or dragged down with the firing mechanisms. As the dust settled, the Crusader soldiers all had the same thought: their nemesis had come to destroy them.
On the edges of the battlefield, someone else was watching the battle unfold and watched as the ballistae were dragged down. This someone knew exactly what had done it, what was behind the upheavals. Just as this someone knew that another with this blasphemous ability had felled one of the Machina near the gates of the fortress. This someone was Cassiel, a Crusader leader commanding this latest attempted push into the heretic lands of Sur. He had not expected this, yet he was not overly surprised.
Another heretical Concord takes a hand. When the enemy is so closely pressed, could we expect anything else? The fallen ones will do anything to protect this world. Their world of heretics, guarded by their Chosen. But even our faith cannot match the raw energy of such a fighter. So what to do? Retreat? That would be best. Go back to our sanctuaries and prepare for another assault. At another time, when all is right.’ Cassiel turned to the nearby Crusader general who viewed the battle from behind a war table with several other ranking officers. ‘Call a retreat.’
The General turned to Cassiel in disbelief. ‘But Patriarch, we are nearly–’
I said call a retreat.’
Cassiel’s voice turned threatening, his eyes narrowing into dark slits, his fingers tightening ever so slightly on his spear. The General felt a bead of sweat on his temple. He did not sweat readily.
General,’ Cassiel repeated, ‘call a retreat.’
The General reluctantly issued the order to the Commander, and nearby two great horns were blown. Cassiel nodded and turned away, walking back down the slope to where the Crusaders’ special transport caravan waited. The General followed him with his eyes, and strange thoughts filled his mind.


***


One hour later, the Crusaders had retreated, and the soldiers of Ramliah were celebrating. A few remained on the battlefield, searching through the dead for survivors. One remained for another reason. She still did not understand fully what had happened, but Astarte wanted to find any Crusader still alive or faking death, and kill them. She looked with eyes hard and cruel, striding among the dead with unsettling vigour, as if their deaths had increased her vitality.
She was on the very edge of the battlefield when she finally saw someone, a figure struggling to free themselves from a piece of one of the shattered ballistae. She walked over slowly. It was a Crusader, one of the ballista operators, and she was trying desperately to free her trapped legs. As could be told from the surrounding scuff marks, others had tried and failed. Now she was alone, and at Astarte’s mercy. Astarte approached slowly, clenching the hilt of her sword. The trapped Crusader looked up at her, her face at once fearful and pleading.
Mistress... Mistress, please. Help me. I am trapped.’
Astarte looked. ‘The weight of that thing.... It did not crush your legs?’
No. It is a miracle. But I am trapped here. Please, help me. I surrender myself to your mercy.’
Mercy, eh?’ her mouth twitched, ‘Tell me, where were you?’
I operated this ballista. Then some demon woman came and split the thing, and then some furious quake took most of the others down. It must be the blessing of the Seraphim that I survived.’
The... blessing....’
Astarte suddenly started laughing. She laughed with a solemn flow of sound that made the air around her cringe.
Blessing? Blessing.’ her voice mocked the very word, ‘Oh yes, blessing. I do know blessing. I know the blessing of the Seraphim. The blessing of death they bestowed on my family.’
The woman looked up, suddenly fearful. ‘Wh... what?’
Astarte continued, her voice starting out as flat and ending as exploding with passionate hatred. ‘Your blessed Seraphim deemed it necessary that my entire family and the lands and city they held should be destroyed. You Crusaders laid siege to our city and took it. Any who did not submit to their faith were executed without trial or branded as heretics and cast out to die. I alone escaped before the fight, and some weeks later, I returned. They had burnt the town and palace to the ground. They had killed all of my family. My mother. My father. My brothers. My sisters. I found all their bodies, left despoiled and unburied to be taken by the filthy creatures calling this desert home. Oh yes, Crusader, I know the Seraphim’s blessing!’
The Crusader was on the point of screaming, desperately yanking at her legs as if to tear them from their sockets and give her a chance to crawl away. The voice whispered in Astarte’s head.
Use my gift, if you wish. Make her feel the pain of your subjects, roasted in the flames of purity. If you choose.’
Astarte raised her hand, and the woman’s clothing was ablaze. The trapped Crusader cried out in fright and tried to bat it out, scooping up sand to throw onto herself. The flames resisted, and spread across her, using her hair as fuel and sticking to her skin as if she were soaked in tar. She was soon screaming in agony, and Astarte was watching with a horrifying look of savage joy, which twisted her mouth into a sadistic grin. It was then that a stern voice sounded behind her.
Astarte, that is enough. Douse those flames.’
Astarte turned, curious about the voice while ignoring its instruction. Mastema was approaching, picking up a spear from one of his fallen soldiers. The Crusader’s piteous screams faded into whimpers, but the flames did not diminish. As if in response to this wilful disregard of his order, Mastema walked past Astarte and stood over the writhing woman. Raising the spear, he plunged it down into her heart. There was a brief moment of pained relief, then the woman slumped to the ground and blood began oozing into the sand below. The flames died in an instant, and Astarte glared at Mastema.
Why?!’
Mastema sighed, his deep voice filled with exasperation. ‘You really must quell your rage, Astarte. It will consume you if left unchecked.’
It consumed me when I saw my family dead and treated like garbage. These things do not deserve our mercy or respect. They deserve nothing but to feel our judgement upon them.’
Astarte...’
The battle is done. And I have long been tired of your prattle. I will return to my quarters. Unless you have fresh advice for me.’
Mastema watched her as she walked past him and began her trek back to the fortress. She walked with determination and anger in her step, and again Mastema pitied her for what she was. Taking a last glance at the burned young woman he had released from suffering, he too turned and began walking back to the fortress. Even as he did this, the voice came to his ears again.
You are too strict. You know her rage. You and I both agreed to use it, yet you risk alienating her.’
I wanted to nurture a good soldier, not a sadistic killer.’
All soldiers are killers, sadistic or otherwise. You must accept that, as your father did. Indeed, as you did of your own father. And as your fathers before that. For ten generations I have counselled your family, and each time I must tell them these same reassurances and arguments when they see the reality of life in this world we crafted. Really, were you not special, I would find it most tiresome.’
Mastema did not answer, and the voice retreated. The only sound was the faint pained cry of someone in the battlefield, the rustle of the wind, and the thudding of armoured feet as soldiers surveyed the bloody scene.


Unknown


A fine find, Asmodeus. I congratulate you.’
Admodeus and Orobas had watched as the battle played out before their eyes, and their detached voices had spoken to the two fighters in their own relative time frame. The entire sequence had played out of order, but the minds of the Powers could reconstruct even the most fragmented narrative into a cohesive whole. The two Powers, whose Concords had been put to use on the battlefield, now admired the results of their choices.
I thank you for your admiration, Orobas. Indeed, the rage in that woman is truly splendid. Matching the wrath of our own brethren when heresies are placed before them.’
And I thought it was said our brethren were wrathful to none.’
To none who bow before. But to those who rear their necks, that wrath is all too evident... Oh, a jest. Not one of your finest, but worthy of future note. How have you been?’
For me, it has merely been a trice since my Concord with dear Mastema’s great-grandfather’s grandmother. For him, it has been all the years of his life, and all the years of his ancestors combined. A heavy weight.’
I feel as if I have been in Concord with the woman Astarte since the beginning of time. Such energies within her.’
If only others could be as fortunate as you, Asmodeus. Feeling such a short time has passed with my own Concord is a sure sign that I have grown bored with it and the family I am tied with. Yet until this cycle has passed, I must persist.’
Indeed. Have any of our other siblings found ones with which to form a suitable Concord?’
Yes. Kimaris reports so. There is one very promising subject. He will shortly stand upon a gallows, I believe. Or maybe he already has died the death of a criminal and spy, or has already been saved. I cannot tell here. It is not the right place for seeing Yerusahyn’s present time.’
It sounds very dramatic.’
You know Kimaris. That one is eternally searching from dramatic endings and rousing beginnings.’
That is so. You might say Kimaris is almost human. Well, I bid you... Oh, wait. In this place, we are all one. And we are all separate. We cannot in all conscience truthfully bid each other farewell.’
Yes. That is the beauty of this void.’
Well then, an apt substitute. Until we converse directly once more.’

Until then.’

The Leviathan Chronicle; Genesis  is set for released in Q2 2018 as a downloadable e-book and physical edition. The second part of the story will release before the end of the year.

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