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Rise - Dark Fantasy (Novel, First Chapter)


The Art for this chapter was provided by a close friend of mine, the wonderfully talented Kalhens, who you can find over at: https://www.instagram.com/kalhens/

In the dark corners of the world, where the veil to the between is thin, monsters make their homes. Those that seek to eradicate these creatures are known as Hunters. Humans that bring magical might to bear against the nightmares.

Sylvia is a Hunter. One of many, but none are quite like her. Set apart by her immense magical power, kept caged by runic inscriptions, she nonetheless hunts with the rest. Those that hunt with her, however, frequently perish. It is as if to be in Sylvia's very presence draws the ire of the gods. She bears a secret, however. Sylvia is enthralled in servitude to a master she does not wish to follow, and it is not only Beasts that she Hunts.

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His eyes snapped open. His breath caught in lungs that didn’t seem to want to work. His eyes searched. He stood atop a mountain overlooking what must have once been fields. The ground was black and charred, dotted here and there with brilliant glassy crystal formations. The crystals threw arcs of color onto the blasted ground that surrounded them, illuminating the webbing cracks that decorated the floor.

“Rise” a voice thundered around him, shaking him to his core. The empty space he overlooked twisted, and warped, and then rent itself apart. Fragments of rock and ash rose into the air. “You must Rise” the voice spoke again, as something grew on the horizon.

As the ground broke, a star climbed into the sky. Black as the void itself, it bathed the world in black light rimmed in white. It grew, and roared as it did. It consumed the heaving ground. It ate the sky. It devoured light. But when it reached him it stopped. Waiting.

“You must Rise”

She woke up.

Sweat misted her forehead. Her heart pounded in her chest. The dream again. Sylvia was hesitant to call it a nightmare. She was a hunter. More to the point she was the Fateweaver, not that anyone knew. Nightmares, real nightmares, were part of her day to day life. A sigh escaped her lips, as her eyes finally started to see the space around her.

Cavernous walls extended upwards, the ceiling of the space lost in the darkness. A fire crackled to the side, a rough pair of hands tending to the flames. The other girl’s eyes glanced at Sylvia. “You alright Nova?” the girl asked. Nova. A nickname that felt like it belonged to someone else. “I’m alright” Sylvia answered, drawing her legs below her and sitting up.

Sylvia’s eyes drifted around as she reoriented herself. The dreams had become more frequent. A chill went down her spine. Her master would not be pleased. Sylvia shook the thought out of her mind. Only more reason to complete this assignment as quickly as possible.

The sounds of dripping water echoed throughout the cave they were in. Somehow, the sound was audible even over the fire. The cold, damp air seemed to cling to her skin like a sheen of sweat. The beast had made its way here after three long days. Back to its nest.

Footsteps sounded from outside the ring of light, and the other woman’s grip shifted supernaturally quickly to the haft of a scythe beside her. Sylvia. No, Nova. Watched as the woman’s body coiled like a spring. “It’s just me, Laura” a boy called. Laura relaxed her grip for a moment, before standing with her weapon at her side.

“Find anything?” Laura asked, as she and the boy clasped forearms. The hardened leather of their armguards clicked as they did. The boy’s blonde hair seemed to shine in the firelight, glinting just like the metal of the barrel of the large hunting rifle in his hands.

“I did” he answered with a nod. Laura tightened her grip on her weapon nearly imperceptibly. “A ways further in. Max isn’t back yet?” he asked, the studded leather duster he wore swinging slightly as he looked around.

Nova, who was now standing, shrugged. “No” she answered, pulling absently at the strip of enchanted cloth around her right arm. Runes covered every inch of its surface, but they were quiet for the moment. “Shouldn’t be too much longer then. We split up about an hour ago” the boy said, sniffing. His hands ran along the barrel of his rifle, and he paused in disgust as they found spider’s silk. He pulled the sticky substance off. He had less luck getting it off his hands. Nova almost laughed. Laura did.

“Have I mentioned how much I fucking hate arachnoids?” he complained, and Laura shook her head. “Only every ten seconds since we got here, Marco” she chided. Marco grunted, and then sat down to warm his hands. He continued to mutter complaints about the cave. Nova quickly tuned him out. She closed her eyes, and let her awareness expand. Gliding over Marco’s words. Over the crackling fire. Past Laura’s steady breaths.

A picture of the cavern they were in painted itself in her mind. Slowly. Ever so slowly. Thoughts, sensations, they floated into her mind. Nova let them pass. They didn’t matter. She felt the blood in her veins, and could feel her heartbeat in her chest. She focused herself on the sounds. Letting the rest fade. It was still there, it just wasn’t worth her attention.

Nova heard the fire. Marco’s words. Laura’s breath. The rustling of their clothing. The whine of air as it moved into the cave. And beneath it all, a skittering. A clatter. Coming closer. The Fear. It was so deep. It rushed through Nova and pushed her out of her meditative state. She cursed under her breath.

“It’s coming” she said, standing with more courage than she felt. Marco glanced at her, eyes narrowing.

“You’re sure?” he asked as he looked around.

“She’s right. I can hear it too. We’ll have to hold until Max gets back” Laura answered, swiping her scythe through the air. Marco stood, and slowly checked his weapon. He opened the breach, and then nodded to himself. It clicked closed.

Nova was still. A deep breath filled her, and with it came a rush of energy. The edges of the cloth surrounding her arm frayed. The runes began to emit a deep red glow. She felt their constricting presence. Not on her body. In her mind. Caging her power like one of the beasts they hunted. Part of her roared at the injustice, and for a brief moment the cloth began to unwind. Nova took another breath, and centered herself.

It was closer now. The skittering was loud. It echoed around them. They were all silent as they waited. The sound stopped. “That’s not good” Marco breathed. As his words filled the space, it leapt at them from the shadows. A shape larger than any animal had any right to be. Twice as tall as a man, and half again as long. Marco dove to the side, one of its scything legs catching him in the chest. Sparks flew off the studs in the leather.

Laura launched herself at the shape before it had even landed. Her scythe tore through its exoskeleton. One of the monster’s legs flew off in a shower of blue-green blood, and it gave a screech. Laura backed away, and as the arachnoid stood near the fire, Nova got her first good look at the beast.

Simply, it was a spider. But to call it such was a disservice. Its fangs were each easily the size of Laura’s scythe blade. It appeared twisted. Broken. And Just looking at it for too long gave Nova a dull headache. Dozens of spikes erupted from its carapace at odd angles.

Flaps of skin hung loosely from the creature’s spikes, and Nova realized with disgust that they were all from its victims. The skin of humans and animals seemed to be stitched together with webbing, covering the arachnoid in a patchwork cloak. Her eyes wandered upwards. Max’s body was impaled on the spikes. Eyes forever open in the pain of his final moments. It was one of the Mantled.

Marco cursed under his breath, and raised his rifle. He fired as the Mantled Arachnoid threw itself at him. Laura jumped at it, colliding with the beast in the air. Nova drew back a hand, arcs of lightning running along it. The Arachnoid struck Laura’s leg, pushing her off and leaving behind a deep gash.

As soon as Laura was clear Nova launched the bolt of lightning at the monster. It screeched in pain, thrashing as the electricity ran through its body. Marco fired twice in quick succession. Blowing huge chunks out of the Arachnoid’s carapace before reloading his rifle faster than Nova could follow with her eyes.

Laura grit her teeth. With a shout, the wound the monster had left closed itself. Laura’s eyes glowed a bright purple. Her pupils were now vertical slits. Her manic grin showed a mouthful of fangs. The hallmarks of a full hunter.

The Arachnoid arched its legs and jumped to the ceiling. It flipped, and they could hear its claws punch holes in the stone. It was lost now to the darkness. “Get back down here!” Laura yelled. Marco had his rifle aimed at the ceiling. Nova concentrated, bringing to life a ball of starfire in her hands. The cloth around her right arm frayed further. The ends began to unravel.

Nova threw the starfire upwards. It illuminated the cavern’s ceiling, and the Arachnoid. It blinked its eyes in what might have been a bestial confusion before Marco fired one of its legs.

The joint he aimed at vanished in a puff of blood, but still the Arachnoid held. Nova propelled the ball of starfire at the monster. Sensing something amiss, it threw itself back towards the ground. The starfire impacted the stone where it had just been. There was no explosion. The stone simply ceased to be. Leaving behind a charred, glassy crater.

Nova cursed as the Arachnoid fell, and Laura rushed to meet it. They clashed. Marco fired continuously into its carapace while Nova prepared another attack. Laura sliced through another one of its legs, but the Arachnoid pummeled her in return, slicing her in a dozen places and throwing her backwards.

Before it could give chase, Nova launched another bolt of lightning at it. The arachnoid twisted out of the way of the arcing electricity, but it was forced away from Laura. It instead moved towards them. Marco fired into its face, but the monster moved so fast that he only grazed it. He took a deep breath, and his eyes began to glow a dull orange. He snapped the rifle towards the Arachnoid and fired. This time, the shot flew true.

The Arachnoid’s face erupted in a shower of gore, and it screamed. It tumbled backwards, and then righted itself. As it did it was struck by a shower of icicles Nova had summoned. It backed away further, and then roared. The Fear struck her again and she froze. They all did. Laura forced herself to move but before she could stop it the Arachnoid was ripping into Marco.

Nova regained her faculties and stumbled back. Laura cried out in anguish, sweeping her scythe across the distracted Arachnoid’s neck. The headless monster reared onto its back, legs twitching as its body caught up with the fact that it was dead. Laura and Nova kneeled next to Marco’s body. The Arachnoid had torn massive holes in his chest, one of which had pierced his heart. Laura wept openly as she closed his dead eyes. “We Live. We Hunt. We die” Laura began, “Such is our charge” Nova finished, extending a hand. Laura took it, and stood.

“It’s done. Time to go back” Laura said, wiping tears away from her face. Nova. No. Sylvia. Took a deep breath. She raised a hand at Laura and closed it. Laura froze. “What” She asked, confused. Sylvia stared at her, sorrow etched onto her face. Laura struggled against the force that gripped her like a child might grip a doll.

“Nova what are you doing?” she yelled. Sylvia looked down at the floor. She could see her master’s face in her mind. The impossible shapes. She could feel the strength of his will. She would do this. Or she would suffer for eternity. Sylvia did not relish the prospect. Her eyes hardened. “What I have to” She answered, as her eyes began to glow a black tinged with white.

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