As promised, I’ve delivered four excerpts from The Night Lands. The first is on my novel page on the NaNoWriMo website and features the first appearance of Atsuko, and is likely the first scene of the book. The second I posted on Google+ and used to show an early scene with one of those who dwell in the earth, Xkikx, except he’s not dwelling in the earth. Third, on facebook, I posted a private confrontation between Atsuko and the Imperia Sorcha Kagatsu, the main villain of The Night Lands.
Now, I give you a fourth excerpt. The following scenes introduce another Asurian Imperia, this one at the first level rather than the seventh. This is Vanity. Despite her name and occupation, I see her as a protagonist, though she’ll need some convincing of this.
Before I leave you to read, I recommend you taking a look at those other excerpts. There are clues in all of them about what is going on in this twisted world I’ve made, clues that pay off a little in this excerpt, even though it is a character introduction.
Vanity eased her knife through the old man’s throat. The fist flow of blood ran over her fingers, a necessary inconvenience when freeing the conquered from any service to Helio-Asura. A slight gurgle from the old man made a bubble in the smooth slash. When the air pushed out, blood sprayed outward.
Lucky for Vanity, she was standing behind the old man. Belyn was not as lucky, since she was kneeling close to the old man, absorbing the power of his death. Dark red droplets lingered all over the young Imperia’s face, frustrating her greatly.
Seeing the scowl on Belyn’s face, Vanity burst out laughing. Belyn glared up at the crimson-haired young woman, but the laughter still didn’t stop. “I’m sorry,” Vanity said. “I didn’t think he’d burp like that.”
Grumbling, Belyn said, “I’d twist your node if I didn’t think you’d enjoy it.”
Licking her painted lips, Vanity said, “You’re welcome to try.”
After the line had thinned, Vanity stepped into the courtyard, breathing in the cool sea air. The city of Yorda stood intact, even after four cycles of Asurian rule. Though it was an ancient city, its defenses were built of men and magic, but could do nothing against the might of dragons. The newest parts of the city were those the Asurians built in praise of Helio-Asura.
Vanity walked to the central plaza, where a polished marble gazebo stood in a garden of vibrant flowers and soft grasses. A number of devotees spoke quietly or knelt in prayer. Many looked at Vanity as she passed, though she knew why they stared at her, why they couldn’t stand to look away from her.
Her circlet helped only a little to make her stand out. As part of the First Spire, Vanity was only allowed a single spike on her brow. The slight armoring around her bust glimmered in the sunlight, though it had been purposefully molded to enhance her already present proportions. A cape of black dragon weave tumbled behind her right shoulder, as the node on her left had to always be present in accordance with Asurian law. Vanity’s crimson hair stood high atop her head, then tumbled down her back. On her front side, the red locks rarely touched her face, instead framing the visage of perfect symmetry. She kept her hands close to her heart as she approached, her fingers danced close to the bottom of the luminous crystal tied around her neck.
Stepping onto the gazebo, those present stood and bowed before backing out of her way. The people outside followed Vanity, always gazing and following her, even if they had never seen her before. In the center of the gazebo, on an engraved seal of Helio-Asura, she knelt, reminding herself silently how it had been when people gazed at her with disdain rather than wonder.
Hearing a number of people shift from their feet to their knees, Vanity began. Though her prayers were personal, she had attracted an audience for whenever she made them. Vanity opened her eyes and lifted her arms above her head, holding her hands open as her private frame for the eternal sun. “Praise Helio-Asura, taker and shaper of all things. Accept the sacrifices I make with my hands, the lives I free to your perfect world. Praise those who fight in your name as they bring others to your service and devotion. Praise the power and strength of the Imperia and Imperion who serve you. Praise the conviction thrust into my heart so I might further embrace my own loyalty. Praise to the death You bring.”
All those gathered joined with her, echoing her last plea. “Praise to the death He brings.”
When she rose, Vanity looked over the crowd, seeing such diversity in their ranks. Several skin tones and shades of hair stretched out in front of her. So many people, so many expressions. Awe, wonder, simple pleasure, it all surrounded Vanity in a familiar sight, but never a comfortable one.
Smiling at the crowd, Vanity said, “Thank you all for joining me here. Please don’t neglect your own prayers and offerings. Helio-Asura awaits you all.” She turned her hands toward the altar of light where she knelt moments earlier. “Come all of you. Embrace the light and the purity it offers.” Moving to the side, the crowd turned from a mass of people into a congregation ready to offer themselves to the eternal sun.
Moving past the crowd, the young Imperia watched them carefully as they watched her. Their devotion to her continued to grow stronger with each day. Someone was always waiting for her arrival, just as someone always waited for her departure.
A woman with a little boy and a little girl stood close to Vanity’s path. All three knelt, holding their hands above their head as Vanity approached. The children took great pride with their efforts, though they didn’t have the same balance as their mother. When she was close enough, the mother said, “May the light of Helio-Asura shine on you, Imperia.” The children tried to follow their mother’s example, but fumbled their words.
Vanity bent down touching the sides of the children’s faces. “Aren’t you both lovely?” They were dirty, but nothing about either child was deformed or impaired.
“Imperia,” the mother said. “Might I ask you to bless my children?”
Standing to face the mother, Vanity said, “Your children only need you to be blessed. Make them fit and loyal, encourage their skills, and they will make you proud.” Bending down again, she said, “Children, obey your mother and the world will be your reward.”
The trio knelt, thanking the Imperia for her words. She smiled and walked out of the garden.
Walking up a winding trail, Vanity found her way to a housing complex. Most who saw the four-level tower would call it a simple dwelling. Vanity was glad to have a consistent roof over her head, a more stable home than a hut on a floating sanctuary or a covered wagon. On the second level, her apartment was a simple pair of rooms, one for living and sleeping, the other for her own intimate use.
As soon as she was inside, Vanity slipped off her single-spiked circlet and eased the combs out of her crimson hair, allowing her hair to rise and fall naturally. She slipped off her belt and set it on a table with her other belongings before falling onto a seat and massaging her temples.
“Were your followers waiting for you?” Belyn asked from the doorway.
“They’re not my followers. They are servants of Helio-Asura.”
“Damien doesn’t think so. I’ve heard him saying that you could take them conquering for a hundred leagues before the first one would lose any strength or motivation to continue.”
“I’m not much of a conqueror.”
“You’ll have to do it sooner or later.” The dark woman stepped inside, bringing with her a bottle of spirits. Vanity took a pair of glasses out of a drawer, turning them over to be used. Belyn poured dark blue liquid into both of the glasses. “I recall a young recruit telling me she would never be an Asurian, much less an Imperia.”
Vanity tried so hard to put her hardships aside. There were greater things for her to do and reflecting on some caravan or abduction would do nothing to help her. She took a sip from one of the glasses and said, “I wanted to make a much stronger impression long-term.”
Belyn shot her drink down in a single blast. “Are you going to try and make that impression on Damien?”
“I hadn’t thought about it, but that’s a good idea.”
Shaking her head, Belyn said, “Glad I could inspire you.”
Vanity shrugged. “I can’t help it if I catch up quickly. How else am I going to prove I’m worth giving the prettiest face to?”
Belyn poured herself a little more. “I wouldn’t let your followers hear that.”
“They can hear what they like. I’ll simply tell them it’s a parable of devotion and what Helio-Asura can offer them.”
[The above image is the castle from Ico, which just happens to be one of the most incredible games ever.]