I’m in the processing of editing The Dark of Letum, while also writing the second book in the trilogy. My developmental editor and I have gone through TDOL and taken out anything that didn’t work. I have a scene that I absolutely love, but it did not make the cut. It might find its way into The Rise of Spero, if I’m lucky, but until then it’s a deleted scene. So guess what? You get to read it!
Without further ado:
Chapter 1: Darkness Unleashed
Two men dropped a beaten man at Honri’s feet. His hands were bound behind his back, and dark, wet hair clung desperately to his bloody forehead. When the man looked up, struggling to his knees, Honri was met with dark eyes as cold as steel.
“Hello, Jace,” Honri said, his mouth twisting in pleasure. The motion highlighted a jagged scar that began at the base of his ear and ended at the side of his mouth. Still, the face could do no more than grimace; the damaged flesh pulled inward, forcing his mouth to remain in a broken frown.
Jace slowly stood, taking in the room around him. It was a small, circular area. Stone walls glistened with moisture while beads of liquid slipped down, catching in the seams between the stones. The stench of mold and decaying wood fought to overpower the smell of smoke from freshly lit candles. He didn’t need to see it all to know what it looked like, but he let his eyes roam the room anyway. Behind him and to his left, a rotting door blocked the only entry into the room, which was buried deep in the ground. Flickering candlelight shined through gaping holes in the rotted wood. Above, the weight of the earth pushed down, and for a moment he envisioned it collapsing in on top of them, killing them all before they could sacrifice what remained of their souls.
“I told you I want no part of this,” Jace said, turning back to Honri, his eyes catching and holding the man’s gaze. When Honri’s glance darted away, unable to remain fixed, Jace let his eyes move to the center of the room, ignoring the sinking in his heart.
Steel swords speared the earth between small candles, spaced evenly to form a circle, hilts leaning toward the center. It was set up for a ritual, ready for the spell to be cast that he feared would ultimately plunge the world into chaos. Jace knew this too well—he’d been the one to find the ancient texts detailing the methods that must be used to open the door.
Two men stood behind him, the rancid stench of their breath telling him they were much closer than he would like.
“You did,” Honri said. “But you reached the point of no return long ago.”
Honri shrugged. “Whatever comes out of the doorway we open will be an improvement to what exists now.”
“You don’t know that!” Jace was growing desperate. “We don’t know what’s over there.”
“Ahh, but I do, Jace. I very much do. And I welcome it.”
Jace dropped his head, shame flooding through his body. “Since I watched an innocent woman die at my hands.”
Honri smiled. “Whose fault was that, Jace? Her death, was it yours or was it the fault of the man who ordered the kill?”
Jace closed his eyes as the guilt twisted in his gut. “It’s mine. I released the arrow.”
“No!” Honri all but screamed. “It’s the man who ordered it. And there are hundreds of men like him, waiting to destroy the world with their greedy hands. I, for one, won’t stand by and watch anymore. What we welcome here today will save the world. The loss of whatever life it brings will be worth it.”
“I won’t help you, Honri,” Jace said quietly.
Honri smirked, gesturing to the men who had brought Jace in. They nodded, ducking out the decaying door.
“Actually Jace,” Honri said, stooping until he was eye level with his captive, “you will. You will be the one to open that door.”
The men returned, dragging a young boy with them. They threw him to the ground next to Jace.
“No,” Jace whispered, his eyes flooding with tears. “How did you find him?”
Honri ignored the question. “You see, Jace. It’s you or Caden. He will open that door to save his father. Will you open that door to save your son?”
The boy struggled to his knees, holding himself erect next to his father. He shook his head vehemently. “No,” he said to Jace. “Whatever he wants you to do, don’t do it.”
Honri’s eyes turned to small slits. “One of you will open it.”
“Why don’t you do it, Honri?” Jace asked quietly.
“I can’t,” Honri said. “It requires an unwilling sacrifice, somebody who’s heart is repentant—or pure. Even if I could, I wouldn’t. I intend to live long enough to greet our new Master.” Honri stepped back from Jace, tapping his fingers lightly on his hip as if the scene before him was nothing more than friendly banter. “Open it, Jace, and I’ll let your son go. Or you can wait, and his screams will torment you until you beg to open the door to save you from your own suffering; maybe then you’ll understand what I’m doing this for.”
Jace gazed at his son who shook his head again, begging. The boy was hardly more than a child. At twelve his body was just beginning to sprout, his limbs becoming too long for his growing body. Jace saw those changes, but he also saw the baby he had raised, the young boy with pale hair and eyes the color of rich, warm earth—so like his mother—toddling after him; the child falling off a fence and hardly crying when he gashed open his knee; the growing boy bravely mourning the loss of his mother, standing in front of an open grave, stoic, unmoving, and strong. Caden could handle the torment they would put him through, but Jace could not watch that.
“Let him go, Honri,” Jace said quietly. “I will open it. On one condition.”
“That you swear an oath, in your blood, that he won’t be harmed.”
“I can’t make that oath. I won’t have that power once the door is opened.”
“Then you get whatever is coming through that opening to promise it with you.”
Honri’s body seemed to shrink, hunching in on itself and his eyes darted around in sudden fear. “I can’t ask that of them,” he whispered.
We will swear an oath.
The voice came from behind Jace, who whipped around searching for its owner.
“Swear it.” Jace demanded.
We swear, your son’s body will not be harmed by us. The voice came from the shadows – whatever being spoke was not there in flesh.
“What about his soul?” Jace demanded.
We lay no claim to his soul. The answer was swift, immediately following the question.
“And you?” Jace whirled to Honri, “Do you swear as well?”
“In blood.” Proving his point, Honri pulled a small knife from inside his boot, pressing the tip into the palm of his hand. The flesh opened and blood spilled down his fingers. He held the bleeding hand and the blade out to Jace, waiting while his men removed the binding from Jace’s wrists.
Jace took the blade then turned to Caden. “Take your shirt off.”
“Father, you can’t do this.” The words were pleading, given through the innocence of a child.
“I’m sorry, Caden. But this will keep you safe. When all the world is in chaos, you will be safe.” He grasped the boy’s shoulder mournfully before nodding to the men next to him. “Hold him,” he said.
Jace moved swiftly, tearing Caden’s shirt open and pushing the bloodied blade into his chest, slicing a five inch gash above his heart. He dropped the blade then grasped Honri’s hand, holding it out to the shadows behind him.
“Father…” Caden begged.
“Swear your oath!” Jace screamed to the darkness in the room.
The shadows swirled forward, licked at the blood dripping from Honri’s palm and followed the trail back to his hand. Honri trembled as the hand turned black. Jace pressed the lifeless, blackened palm against the wound on Caden’s chest. Caden’s flesh tingled and then burned as the wound sucked in the congealed blood from Honri’s palm, sealing itself closed and leaving a throbbing pink scar.
“The oath is complete,” Jace said, dropping Honri’s hand. “Caden cannot be harmed. Let him go.”
The men released Caden, who glared at his father, betrayal evident in his eyes.
“How could you, Father?”
“I had no choice, Caden.”
“You should have let me die.”
Jace turned to his son, taking him by the shoulders. “They wouldn’t have killed you quickly, Caden. Your death would have been torture. I couldn’t let them do that, nor could I live with your death on my conscience.” His voice dropped in pitch, the weight of his decision wearing him down. “I couldn’t watch you suffer.”
Caden’s jaw clenched and he squared his shoulders, but his eyes were brimming with tears. “What’s going to happen to you?”
“This is the last time you’ll see me, Caden. It’s time for you to go.” He turned his back to his son, unable to bear the hurt and betrayal in his eyes.
“Get him out of here,” Honri said to his men. “We’ve waited long enough.” Turning to Jace, “It’s your turn.”
Jace set his jaw, but moved to the center of the room.
Honri followed, “I’m glad it’s you, Jace,” he whispered, lips brushing his ear. “I never did like you.”
“Be careful, Honri, or I’ll take you with me.”
Honri smirked, kicking the back of Jace’s legs so he dropped to his knees. “I knew, when you started to pull away, that you were what we needed. We needed somebody with heart, somebody with a little soul.” He danced around Jace until he stood in front of him, arms spread wide. “Me? I have no heart. I gave it away long ago. No soul either. I gave them that too.”
“Go to hell, Honri.”
“Oh, I’m already in hell. This will be my freedom!” His laugh was almost giddy. “Bind him!” he shrieked.
The men yanked Jace’s arms behind his back, tying them tightly to his ankles. His body bound, the chest was forced open. Honri cut the shirt off, digging a symbol into the soft flesh over Jace’s heart. The blood did not flow from this wound. Instead, the shadows began flowing into it. The darkness plunged into the open flesh as Jace, gasping, fought to maintain control. As the darkness grew, the flesh sucked in around it. Small pieces began tearing away, pulled into the force erupting inside his body. Moments later, Jace began shrieking, a terrible, wailing sound straight from the pits of hell. More flesh ripped away, exposing sinew, lungs, a heart beating strong. Bones began snapping, tearing gaping holes as the vortex sucked them in. The men in the room watched in horror, terrified of the powers they were unleashing. Honri screamed in pleasure. “Take him!” he cried. “Take this man and use his soul to join us!”
Jace’s body, no longer able to contain what it housed, ripped apart and sucked into the blackness. In his place billowed a dark, roiling mass – a black mist rapidly gaining density.
Honri watched, skin tingling with excitement, as the mass began to form, pulling into itself together, growing in height, until the shape of a man began to emerge – a man unlike any Honri had ever seen.
Standing a head taller than those in the room, the man’s body was a perfect line from head to toe. Slender fingers trilled across the new torso, experiencing its human form as sinewy muscles rippled beneath pale, flawless skin. The pink lips, full and plump, parted slightly inhaling the dank, now metallic air. Blonde hair, mussed and tangled, fell just below the eyebrow. He tossed his head, shaking the errant locks aside.
Honri gaped in pleasure, struck by the beauty before him.
“Who are you?” he whispered.
The man fixed his gaze on him. Immediately Honri wished he hadn’t. Fear twisted his gut, wrenching inside, constricting his chest, encompassing his being. Images from his childhood long buried surfaced and paraded in front of his eyes. His mother, terrified. His father, lunging at her, knife in hand. The blood. The soiled blade. Her lifeless body. Turning on him, blade dripping. You’re next whispered through his mind.
“No!” he shrieked. “Please… don’t!” He stumbled backward, hand flailing in defense. Abruptly, the memories stopped.
“I am Malic’Uiel,” the man said. “I come to rid this realm of evil.”
Honri nodded desperately, his body trembling. “Then do it,” he whispered. “We welcome you.”
“Turn away from me, Cadaver. You are not worthy to see my glory. Only those willing to shed themselves of wickedness shall look upon me.”
“I am ready, Master,” Honri begged. “Take it from me.”
From behind the closed door, Caden heard the exchange between the Malic’Uiel and Honri. Unwilling to leave his father, he’d come back, peering through the rotted cracks in time to see his body rip apart. He had dropped to his knees, hands trembling, stomach heaving while cold sweat broke out on his neck, slipping down his chest.
The horror of his father’s death permanently branded in his mind, he fought to regain control as anger boiled inside. Kill him, he thought. Rip his body apart the way he did my father.
Yet despite the anger, when Honri began screaming he couldn’t watch. He couldn’t stay to witness his destruction as well. Caden fled, chased by the agonized shrieking of a man’s soul tearing from his body.