I’m proud to report the second book in the Wither the Waking World saga is coming along nicely. While Theel hasn’t fully conquered all of his demons (no one does), many of the obstacles he faces in the second book will be external rather than internal. In the first book, he had to overcome many inner struggles, his lack of confidence, maturity, and faith. But in the second book, many of his struggles will be external.
For this reason, we will be exploring more of the fantastical elements of Theel and Yatham’s home island of Therhson. There will be more than just physical obstacles like the Great Dividers Mountains and the canyon called Krillian’s Cut blocking Theel’s path toward the completion of his quest.
There will be monsters.
Below is an excerpt from a chapter in which Theel’s brother Yatham encounters one. In this case, there is a story behind the monster’s existence, one that must reach its conclusion if the monster is to be defeated. Rather than try to fight the monster, Yatham decides to pray for it.
The place had the look of an inn, even though the name on its broad board was obscured by snow. Yatham could tell it was either abandoned by its owner, or was in the care of someone who had no regard for its appearance. Many of the wooden shutters on the ground floor were smashed, leaving the windows gaping, and with snow covering the sills. One of the two wooden doors at the front of the building had been ripped from its hinges, allowing several feet of snow to find its way inside.
Yatham walked through the portal and found himself in a darkened common room with two stone hearths, both of them dark and cold. Ribbons of pale light streamed in from the windows, splayed across a stone floor covered with broken furniture, splintered table tops and chair legs, and the glittering remains of countless bottles. The place reeked of wine, urine, and vomit. Each time Yatham stepped, he felt his boots sticking to the floor.
The trip across the common room was an ordeal, requiring careful placement of the feet. The further Yatham walked from the windows, the harder it was to see. He nearly tripped several times, and he quickly decided there was no proceeding without light. He found a piece of wood, whether a remnant of a table or chair he couldn’t know, nor did it matter. All it took was a little bit of whiskey from a mug on the floor, some flint and steel, and he had a passable torch.
As he approached the bar, the faint odor of putrefaction stung his nose. He threw a quick glance over the bar top and wasn’t surprised to see the dark form of a man lying face down, obviously dead for many days. Yatham choked and held his nose, scurrying through the doors to the kitchen.
This place was just as bad as the common room, perhaps worse, and awful clutter of destroyed things, pots and pans, wooden bowls and spoons. Whatever furniture was here was now kindling. Empty wine and liquor casks were scattered about, some tapped, but others hacked open as if with swords and axes, as if whoever did this was more interested in bathing in the stuff than drinking it.
He eventually found a brick stove and oven, but wished he hadn’t. The oven was dark and cold, but it was recently used. Looking inside, he could just barely see, by the flickering orange light of his torch, the charred bones of a skeleton.
They cooked someone.
The very moment his flickering torchlight passed across the empty eyeholes of the skull, he heard the pained shriek of a child. It seemed to be screaming for help, but was muffled as if suffocated.
Yatham shuddered. It was a horror he’d rarely known, is if the icy finger of Dehen Yaulk slithered up his spine, causing all the hair on his arms and legs to stand up straight. For a moment, he was frozen, unable to understand why he wasn’t moving.
Then, out of the cold dark oven, where there was no heat to cook, and no fire, not even a latent ember, a streak of flame leaped into Yatham’s face. He reared back, his stomach roiling, his teeth clenching. He stumbled backward, managing to keep his feet at first, but there was too much clutter on the floor, causing him to trip and fall down.
He sat among the splinters and broken glass, blinking, staring at the brick oven. It was cold and dark once again, but now his vision was scorched by a large orange blur. He pinched his eyes shut, and the orange blur was still there, as if painted on this inside of his eyelids. And now he could see the shape of the flame and the dark outline of a small hand in the middle of it. He realized it was a blackened hand that reached out of the oven, as if trying to claw at his face.
Slowly, tentatively, Yatham rose to his feet, and walked himself backward, his boots crunching in the broken glass, retreating until he bumped into the wall opposite the oven. This time he kept his distance, raising his torch to look into the oven from where he stood on the far side of the kitchen. The orange light of his torch once again fell across the charred bones of the skeleton, but this time, when he looked into the eyeholes of the skull, he could see the faint reflections of two small eyes. They were small and hurting and terrified. And staring at the torch in his hand.
He heard it again, the faint echo of a child’s cries, muffled as if screaming while suffocated.
The sound caused Yatham to shiver, his sense of humanity recoiling at the awfulness of what he was seeing. But despite his physical reaction, his brain was working to puzzle this out. Now he understood, but that did very little to slow his sense of horror, or settle his boiling stomach.
Semei had warned him of drownlings near the river. But there were greater horrors to be found. Just as he feared, the ground beneath the village of Tumblebrook was soured. Some ancient slumbering evil had been awakened, and now the spirit of an innocent child, tortured and burned for the amusement of evil men, was bound to the mortal plane. It was imprisoned within the tainted Craft of this place, unable to find peace, and slowly maturing into something terrible.
A fire wraith.
Since Yatham didn’t know when the child died, he had no idea how dangerous its spirit was. It seemed to retain enough of its former self that it was confused and frightened by its situation. It didn’t quite know it had no hope. It still had no reason to anger. And yet, it was trapped in the mortal plane long enough that it could already control the method of its physical demise.
It was only a matter of time before the child would seek revenge upon the living. The village would suffer unnecessarily and even the deaths of the child’s murderers would not be enough to quench its vengeful rage. There was only one way to keep this from happening. Justice must be served while there was still a chance for the child to find peace. It was a deed as necessary as it was revolting, but Yatham knew it must be done.
“I must find the men who did this,” he whispered to himself. “I must find them and … burn them.”
The frightened eyes within the skull looked at the torch, darted toward Yatham’s face, then back to the torch. The sorrow contained within those eyes reached out to Yatham, reached into his chest, and gripped his heart, testing his resolve. The thought of what happened here caused his jaw to quiver. It took every scrap of his willpower to keep from weeping. Had anyone witnessed this? Why had no one done anything to stop it? Yatham thought of this child’s parents and wondered if they knew the fate of their offspring. Were they still looking in vain for their little one?
No matter how many times Yatham swore he would never question God’s plan, he still did, and now was such a time.
He fell to his knees.
“God forgive me for doubting you and your motives,” he prayed aloud. “I should not question those things I cannot understand, only dedicate myself to acting as would please you. I know you are a God of mercy, but I fear you ask something terrible of me, something truly unmerciful. If I must be the tool of your righteous vengeance, then please give me the strength to see it through. If I must commit horrible deeds, let me do it without any doubt of your will. Bolster my faith. Strengthen my heart. And if I must do this horrible thing that makes me sick to think of it, let me find a speck of good somewhere in all this evil. Let me find the parents, so they may know the fate of their child, so they may know this trapped spirit has been freed. Let me through this horrible act purchases them peace, knowing the spirit of their child is with you, basking in happiness and joy, waiting to be reunited as a family when the world breaths its last.
“And another plea, one from my own impure sinful tainted guilt-ridden soul,” Yatham added. “I ask for my own peace. I ask for your love and forgiveness to sooth the soul and ease the guilt of this mortal fool who must act on your behalf, and do your will as the slayer, the executioner, the executor of your righteous justice. If I might find the parents of this poor child, if I am able to bring the father to this place where the condemned are to die, let me empower him to free his child’s soul. Let me give him the privilege of striking the match that will cleanse this world of the filth who did this, and set the spirit of his babe free.
“I know it is wicked of me to ask, but my sinful nature compels me,” Yatham prayed through his clenched teeth. “If a killing must be done to avenge the dead, let it provide some satisfaction for the living. Please let it purchase some peace for those left behind.”
Keeping his eyes closed, he rose back to his feet, his boots scraping on the sticky floor, bits of broken glass dust tinkling from his shins like a tiny snow storm. He stood for a moment, keeping his eyes closed, unsure if we wanted to look in that oven again. But he must, and when he did, he was pleased to see the eyeholes of the skull were dark once again.
“Yes,” he muttered. “Sleep little one. Find what comfort you can. This will end soon and you will be safe within the Lord’s embrace.”