The following sample is from my fantasy novella, Primes: Bad Blood. It's a full length story, totally finished (although I may add another chapter to it - you know how it is, it's "never truly finished until you give up on it"), due to be shopped around to various publishers soon. Of course, if you're a visiting publisher and are interested, get in contact. It at least saves me the paper cost of printing another 54 page manuscript for a 6 month slush-pile wait.
Primes: Bad Blood follows the story of a young warrior called Ketch, who's is very good at killing. And it's started to worry him. With everyone around him designated their abilities since birth -the very concept of being a Prime itself- he is the only one without an alignment, nor a history.
Yet he loves to kill.
The only way for Ketch to discover the reason behind his bloodlust is to sacrifice everything; his morals, his society, his loyalty, his friends... his life.
What would you do to find out who you are?
How far would you go?
Would you be willing to kill everything you know to find out?
Ketch inhaled the morning air deep into his large lungs, fresh, crisp, beautiful… and was satisfied.
The meditation for the day's forthcoming events had been complete. Rising from his crossed-legged position, Ketch's joints popped from years of battle that betrayed his age of just beyond one score. The grizzled scraping of bone, tendons and cartilage prompted a short grin to spread across his thin lips, his strongly defined features made no less attractive for it. He was happy. How could he not be.
He was a Prime.
Dusting off stray open-window flecks from broad bronzed shoulders that were scattered with scars that sporadically traced his body, his bare feet slapped across the stone floor of his chamber as he strode over to his selected battle armour for the day; a long dressing of dulled silver iron chainmail that dropped as far as his knees. Placed over his thick neck with the light tinkles of metal flirting with flesh, he then turned to his bed and stooped below, drawing out a large long wooden box. On one knee, Ketch whispered a closed-eyed prayer to the Gods and tapped the pine twice before flicking open the clasps that previously held it shut. His fingers drew strongly around the slightly battered wood handle of his keen steel double-edged butterfly axe. Another smile spread across his face.
Blood will run this day. That much was certain.
And it felt right.
It always felt right.
He walked across the main hall of the Prime Palace, the beams of dusty morning light cutting from the open brick ports. The bells of the day had just started tolling around the Citadel, the mark of ten ringing as Ketch reached the army courtyard. He curtly nodded to the seven guards patrolling the area, who regally bowed their heads momentarily at the man's presence. Through the entrance of a main guard's post. Down a spiral stairwell. To a black door. The powerful figure sealed his eyes once more and took a final breath, then slowly pushed open the stygian access, axe held fast to his side.
He opened his eyes, to be greeted by a rush of cold forest air.
His battle companions were already awaiting him by the main tree that sat in the centre of the pit forest, which lingered at the bottom of the Citadel, away from its main grounds. Away from the importance that was the Prime culture.
"Hark! Our hero finally approacheth!" smirked the first awaiting, a tall raven haired woman dressed in a full suit of navy blue iron armour.
The equally rangy, but broader black man in gold plated breast-plate and horned silver helmet bowed theatrically. "Verrily, we stand in the presence of greatness, o' Sire Ketch of the Palace, Slayer o' Evils."
Ketch sighed heavily through a sincere smile. "Stop. You know all that archaic language glamour pisses me off. Speak normally."
The two chuckled, before the man spoke in gravel tones. "What would work be without a little levity? Gandasa and I were only just talking about how seriously you take this all."
Gandasa patted the man on the shoulder playfully. "But Fuller! Sweet Fuller! Didn’t I just tell you, we're at war! Ketch the war hero takes war very seriously. War is no joking matter. Not for a war hero." She stifled a short snort.
Ketch walked past them to the back of the main tree they stood at the side of. "We work at the orders of the King, for the greater good of Prime society. Someone has to take our responsibility seriously." The pair mocked with a swooning 'oooh' gesture before he turned around and grinned. "After all. We have enough Prime Jesters and Jokers in the Palace. Poor souls that they are." He turned his attention back to the base of the tree which was scarred with bark divots and discolouring, vertically planting his axe into the green-brown dirt and stooping down.
His face met that of a doe-eyed young woman, her hazel gaze shining with fear, but without a release of tears that would have helped remove some of the dirt and blood that flecked her pallid expression. Some of her light brown hair was cut in places, the rest long and tangled, a mess of light limp branches that rested in resignation across her dirty-vest covered shoulders. Her arms and body were tied with heavy chains around the tree, her mouth bandaged harshly.
Ketch's smile disappeared, replaced with stern look of furrowed brow and hard eye. Without turning his head from the woman, he very clearly said: "Are you sure?"
Any trace of facetiousness had left Fuller' voice. "You ask like our Hunters have ever made a mistake."
Muttering under his breath, Ketch rose from his stoop. "Of course you're sure." He lifted the axe and balanced it across his left shoulder, still holding the handle firm. Looking back, he noticed both Fuller and Gandasa had taken procedure position to either side of him. Ketch touched the temple of his forehead and looked to the pale grey sky, covered by overarching branches and the large shadow of the Prime citadel. Then he rested his eyes back to the woman and clasped his axe out with both hands in front of him. "You have been charged with the crime of high blood-treason by his royal highness, Prime King Euclid VII. By law, this is a crime punishable by death. Only in death will your blood be purified by the Gods who blessed us with our gifts. We, as Primes and rightful inheritors of this Earth, pray for your tormented soul to be taken 'to heaven for judgement by the Twelve."
The woman struggled, the unyielding clank of her chains mocking her attempts at escape. Ketch continued, unmoved. "May they have mercy on your tainted birthright." He raised his axe aloft his head, but stopped at the sudden sound of scratching coming from the woman as she convulsed spasmodically. Her caucasian skin started to tone yellow-green, wrinkly scales bubbling on its surface.
Ketch turned to his companions, who looked on with a mixture of intrigue and revulsion. "What type is she?"
Gandasa's reply was drowned by the sound of the woman's chains loudly giving way, sending several birds from the attached tree flying away in fright. Ketch turned back, his attention firmly set on the woman, who was now growing slowly, while her face barely recognisable for the sickly colour and beaked visage that had replaced her lips. Her hands and feet, also shining with a leathery yellow-green tint, boasted webbed flaps between digits. A ripping of the cloth that bandaged her mouth was dealt by the sudden influx of long sharp teeth.
Most of the surrounding chains held steady, but the snapping and groaning of metal told Ketch this was not to last. He raised his axe again.
The burble of a forked tongue and almost reptilian maw released the sad gurgle sounds from the woman's mouth that stopped Ketch again. His lips parted to speak, but nothing came.
This time the groan-snap of metal did not kill Gandasa's voice. "What the Hell are you doing, Ketch? Finish the blasted job before she gets free and kills us all!"
Ketch's eyes were hard, but his axe remained high as he looked into the confused face of the creature. He had been here before on few occasions. And each time he had seen the same thing. Anger. Uncertainty. Resentment. But in this instance, only a heavy look of questioning sadness hung on her transformed face. And not for the first time, Ketch felt something more than steely sharp duty.
"For fuck's sake, Ketch, do your damned job!" shouted Fuller who was part-way to reaching for his concealed back-strapped weapon, when another and very final metallic snap signalled the remaining chain's end. Free, the woman started to move swiftly. Before Ketch even realised, instinct took over, forcing actions beyond the reach of conscious thought. And the axe fell.
Her head split open with a sickening crack, which was immediately followed by the soft matted squelch of metal separating brain matter. The woman's face was torn in two, a scramble of ripped leathery flesh and blood escaping the horrendous parting from crown to chin. Ketch's armour and face splattered with bone and blood. The body spurted and quivered, then dropped to the grass.
"What the Hell is wrong with you?" pointed Gandasa.
Ketch stood still, staring at the body, no voice given to his prior lack of action.
"Gods, we've been doing this since the new King decreed it and you've never faltered when it was your cut before, why the Hell now? You know the laws. You know why we have to do this."
The anger in her voice was joined by Fuller. "This is a war, Ketch. These… things, they threaten our society. Our way of life. There is a reason behind this all and we have a job to do. Now is not the time to be playing maverick on some random passing whim."
Something more than conscience claimed Ketch's gut, clamping his tongue and keeping his feet fast held to the slowly seeping ground. At one time he thought he was a Warrior, yet without an official Prime title of the fact due to the vague results of his Attribution Test. And now as consequence, competing with role and position, he was an executioner. Yet it did not truly bother him until now. Now, in the early thralls of a secret war that was taken under orders of the King, and forced the hunting of people that were judged as criminals.
Before, death was just death. Something that was a simple truth of life. His life.
It felt right.
It always felt right.
"Ketch," barked Gandasa, her sharp authority snapping through both his reverie and, for now, their friendship. "Our job is done and we must go before they dispose of the body." She followed Fuller through the door back to the Citadel, only turning back when she realised Ketch was still standing there. Gandasa shook her head.
"You can't always be a damn hero."
Ketch looked back into the shattered and bleeding corpse. Dead. Yet still alive with a question lingering in her wide eyes, one horribly separated from the other. A question that was stabbing him with frightening force.
You can't always be a damn hero.
Something had to be done.
"Are you losing your taste for your job?"
"This is not my job, it's just something I do."
The response from Ketch after Temporus had posed his question was expected, albeit without the force it was dealt with. It seemed to the Mage that the young battler was one to deliver his words with the same sense of conviction that he delivered his strikes. Which was mildly ironic, given the reason for asking this consultation in the first place, under the late, barely moonlit midnight sky, deep within the confines of an abandoned graveyard, several miles outside the Prime Citadel.
"So what exactly is the problem, Ketch?"
The young man, dressed in casual and barely insulated leathers, slowly walked along the land strewn with weeds choking the remains of gravel and stone that once been a pathway through the large and open grounds. The cold night air did not bother him, but there was a distinct chill creeping its way down Ketch's spine. "Why couldn’t I reach you earlier?"
A tone of mild frustration wavered in Temporus' voice, who strolled a few paces ahead, but never turned to face his younger. "How many times must we play this game, Ketch? You come to me for answers often, but must I always have to painfully prise the questions from you?"
"Didn’t you once say to me in class that only the battles with friends are the ones truly worth fighting?" Ketch smiled.
"I… w…" Temporus spluttered for words, then smirked. "The cheek of the pup. Ha. Yes, fine, we shall engage our usual verbal skirmish. I was dealing with the fact Arla is on the verge of birthing our first child. Despite threats already to remove parts of me I'd rather not have removed, I have been given a temporary stay of execution, hence the late (and might I reiterate once again, fleeting) time for our talk."
"Excellent news, have you settled on a name? 'Ketch' is a fine na-"
"You can stop right there, boy," smiled Temporus, his ward already chuckling. "In all seriousness, it depends. If it is a girl, maybe Marieke. If a boy… probably named Maurius. After Arla's father."
Both men went silent for a moment before Temporus continued. "It's strange, really. Exciting. Worrying. Wonderful and terrifying. I've been teaching for years, watching children grow, such as yourself and feel a sense of pride and fatherhood in a manner, yet this is something that feels entirely different. As cynical and brooding as I usually am –"
Ketch immediately snorted in reciprocation.
"-thank you, boy." He laughed again, echoing Ketch's sentiment. "As I was saying, as cynical and brooding as I usually am, the chance to bring someone into this world and be directly part of it… it's a marvel to me. I've been casting magic all my life, and now life is casting its magic on myself." There was another chuckle from his throat. "Listen to me. I've become a Prime Hack Poet. Oh great merciful Warrior, end me now."
Ketch picked up a dusty brown rock from the broken alter they were passing and threw it directly at Temporus' head. It flew right through, causing a ripple to flit across the Mage's body, who instantly turned around.
"Come now, I may be immaterial for your audience, but no need to get violent," he smiled. "Even if I ask for it."
"You know I can't help my urges," said Ketch, head cocked to one side as he came level with Temporus. "Whenever we talk like this, I wonder if you just put up a magical projection of being civil, when really you're raiding my quarters for money and food."
The magical avatar that represented Temporus flickered again, distorting the man's smirk through the peering darkness. "I don’t think my wife would like me strolling through dead graveyards at early hours, even with someone as… esteemed as yourself. Especially when pregnant." He continued walking, with Ketch at his side. "Are you ready now?"
Ketch looked up to the heavens, wistfully. Barring the clouded moon, the sky was a blanket of dank blue darkness. No stars. "Have you ever doubted your place? Your role in society? Yourself? Even as a Prime?"
The lack of an immediate answer prompted Ketch to try and see the face of Temporus' illustration, which appeared frozen for a second. Then it suddenly turned to meet him. "Of course… but knowing what alignment you are as a Prime helps with these moments of certain uncertainty. Knowing your role in society prevents any confusion over what you are meant to do, and in that way, we, as Primes, are very fortunate. We're given our talents at birth and know what we are from there in, there's no doubt or hesitation over our place…" His eyes started to skew. "But at the same time, we are also very unlucky. We have no choice in a way, it's taken from our hands. No way to deviate from what we are destined to be. We have an inherent duty to our heritage. We are free, and yet, we are trapped." The smile reappeared on Temporus' face. "You should consider yourself fortunate indeed. Your future is unwritten."
"I often feel like an outcast, in truth," came the reply. "I don’t know anyone else within the whole Empire that has no true alignment."
"Yet, barely a handful knows you are not a Warrior. Not in the strictest Prime sense, despite your clear skills on the battlefield. You decided not to take another Attribution Test?"
"The King now forbids it. The journals have long declared me as a Warrior, and so that's the way the world sees me and probably forever will. Their perception is my reality. I'm guessing it would be too harmful to Prime society to have me as an unknown."
"Indeed it would, no Prime in common public knowledge has been an anomaly… at least no one registered. It would debunk the system it is built upon. And if current politics are to be believed, anything which does not conform to the system is… frowned upon."
Ketch's eyes drifted towards a moss covered gravestone, its indented writing long worn and mostly covered by small vines which wrapped it with clinging vice. "Have you ever killed?"
A shake of the head was the initial reply. "No." He soon added, "Not as far as I know." A moth flew towards the slight light that Temporus emitted from his magical person, then fluttered away once the light passed. "My talents are very specific, as are any Mage's, I would presume. Having rarely been on the melee battlefield, there is little excuse for excess force when you're attacking from a distance. Otherwise, no, I have had no need and am grateful for it."
"Sometimes I forget what it was once like," said Ketch. "To not have killed. But the euphoria… the thrill, the sounds of metal scraping off bone, carving through flesh, the rousing of blood through your veins, the feeling of heat as I take theirs… "
"You speak of that which I am sure every Warrior feels."
"That's what I thought. But today I felt something which made me realise it's not. It's different. The Warrior feels the thrill of the fight, but eternally wants the lack of it, to avoid war. The Warrior is a product of something that it wishes didn’t exist. After the exhilaration of battle is done, the Warrior feels a sense of regret that balances pride.
"I don’t feel such regrets. It's not the act of fighting that excites me. It's the act of killing. Of taking life. I fight for a cause and yes, I'm selective when given the chance, but…" Ketch wandered to the gravestone that had caught his attention, and knelt down, absent-mindedly trying to remove some of the dirt and vines around the name. "I turned 21 yesterday, and today I realised I have killed more people than the sum of my years. More than anyone has ever been recorded in my age group, perhaps beyond that. And this… before, it didn’t worry me. That's what I do for our society. Even now, in our supposed peace-time front, as a temporary executioner, it did not matter because the spirit of taking blood for a cause was so full in me that I did not question it – part of me felt I was giving peace to those souls.
"But today, I looked into the eyes of the woman I killed, and saw a question in my desire. I was taking lives under the shield of cause and never queried it beyond the hedonistic sensation that fuelled it. Ego. Pleasure. Whatever it was, when I saw her eyes asking why, I asked myself why as well. I'm not a Prime Warrior. There is no such thing as a Prime executioner. Yet I kill my way through war, through peace, with no label to my life to truly justify it, if such a thing can be justified. And when I ask myself why…"
He continued to pull away the vines and rub away the dirt of the stone until none remained but its natural state; an unreadable mess of carvings and erosion leaving no name for Ketch to see, even if there was more light in the surrounding areas. "Nothing. Nothing except the knowledge that my existence is defined by ending the existence of others."
Temporus looked over the crouching body of a man he had known from an early age. A man who had no traceable family or roots, no definition by society's standards, and now, apparently no sense of direction or faith in himself. "I… I think I may know of someone who can help you. Maybe the only person who can, given the constraints of your dilemma."
The stooping figure's head craned upwards "Who is it?"
Temporus paused momentarily, as if to ponder his answer. Then he spoke, low and plainly. "Canis."
"I don’t know who that is."
"A Prime. A previous… associate. The oldest authority on Primes that I know. Or met. Much older than me, if he is to be believed." Temporus added darkly, "And is said to have killed more people than even he would care to admit." Another pause. "There is one problem, however."
"Which would be…?" asked Ketch, standing.
The Mage's voice emitted an ironic click from his gullet. "He's due for execution. At dawn."