A/N: So, ten years ago I wrote a fantasy story, got 300 pages in, and stopped. It was utter shit, but had a few decent ideas, which I kept coming back to again and again through the years, but always failed at bringing them to life. This time, I sat down and planned out a series of books, in detail, along with the world and characters and everything else. I tried so hard to give it life. I made it 1 and a half chapters before I stopped. Because I can't plan stories; if I try, I wind up quitting them. If I just write, like I did with the Almost Living series, then it seems to work better. But. Well.
My hope is that in posting what I have here, it will give me the boost I need to continue writing this. It's probably utter shit because I haven't attempted fantasy since my early teen years. It's been a good decade. But, well. Here's hoping. Let me know what you think? Because I just can't seem to continue even though I want to. I'm also in a super bad writer's block and have been for months now, and I recently received a concussion and I'm still suffering from that... so my mind is all foggy and I can't even think about writing. It's hard just typing this out and my head is throbbing. But I thought I had to try. I have other things to be working on, but I just wanted to give this a chance at life, too. Let me know, yeah?
A few quick notes, which I haven't worked into a summary yet so I can't make a quick synopsis and my brain won't let me think: There are 4 Crystals of Power; Hope, Light, Darkness, and Despair. They keep the world in balance. As the last crystals fall, everything is thrown into chaos and it's up to our ragtag, reluctant heroes to save a world they have no place in.
I don't even have a title for the story yet. The series is called Crystalline Cycle, but I don't know individual story names yet. Ugh. My head hurts. I could just put this off until I feel better but by then I'll lose my nerve. I always do.
A Light in the Dark
Crystalline Cycle, book 1
Title is subject to change.
General warnings: My usual shit. If you don't know, that includes some slash, because I suck at writing female characters even though I'm working on that. Also, violence, torture, death, killing, maybe sex. Also my attempt at het romance too. Who knows. I'll try to properly prepare you at the beginning of a chapter if it has anything bad or raunchy. If this isn't your glass of pineapple juice, please return to the fridge, and try again.
As of right now, each chapter is a new POV. (Keep in mind I only just ended the second chapter, so...) But I plan to keep it like this. There are 6 main characters. Cade here is just one of them.
The air was misty and damp, his clothes clinging to his skin as he moved through the darkness. The streets were empty this time of night; even the patrols didn't bother coming around this part of the city most of the time. It was cluttered with the homeless and sick. A shelter stood semi-proudly against the backdrop of rubble and forgotten structures long since abandoned. People milled around outside the shelter, the structure itself too full to house them.
King Darik might have cut back on the rate of crime in his kingdom, but he'd done little to assist the less fortunate. Once, he promised more shelters, and better living for everyone; now that was nothing but a lost memory, a forgotten promise. There would be no electricity found here, nor coolers in which to keep food. Only the rich had those – people like Darik Ayers, or Governor Abraham Martin. They got the joys of electricity – light without the hassle of lamps and torches, and they got coolers to keep their meat from going bad, but those less fortunate, like those in Mairy's shelter, had to do without such luxuries. They had to get by on nothing. Crime might have been at an all-time low these days, but the well-being of the sick and homeless was another matter entirely. Apparently, crimes against those less fortunate didn't count.
Caderyn slipped through the people milling around outside the shelter. Torches flickered up high, illuminating the wooden sign with the red, painted letters boasting Dragon's Nest, the name of this shelter. Inside, it was so crammed he could hardly move without bumping into someone. The scent of sweat and blood filled the building, leaving his nostrils flaring as he fought the urge to reach for his twin daggers, resting in the sheaths on his back. The weight was heavy and familiar, pressing against his shoulder-blades as he walked.
He made it through the crowd, stepping over resting people on his way, and finally emerged on the other side. The staircase was closed off by a man standing in front of it, his girth nearly hiding the stairway from view. He gave Caderyn a once over, quirking a thick brow.
"Get lost, boy," he said, jutting his chin out.
Cade smiled, watching him through a veil of dark blond hair. "I believe she wants to see me."
"Everyone thinks she wants to see 'em," the man said, shaking his head. "Now get lost, do ya hear?"
His lips pursed into a thin line, smile fading. "You can either let me pass, or we can do this the hard way. The choice is yours."
"That a threat?" The man pushed away from the wall, reaching for the sword at his belt. Cade beat him to it, fingers grasping the hilt of his dagger over his shoulder, and a second later he had the blade pressed against the big man's thick neck. "Who do you think you are, boy?" the man sneered, fingers wrapped around the hilt of his sword, but he knew he'd been beaten. Cade was faster than most people thought.
"Just an interested party," Cade said, shrugging. "Now, are you going to let me see Mairy, or do we need to do this the hard way?"
"You're crazy," the man spat.
"Did you say hard way?" He pressed the blade more into the man's neck. A small trickle of red slipped from a small nick at the tip of his smooth, silver dagger. Shimmer was always good for that; thin, straight and sharp. Good for making a point. "Because I love the hard way."
No, you don't, a part of him thought. Control yourself.
He ignored the voice in the back of his head. Right now, all he could smell was this man's blood, and all he could hear was this man's heart racing in his chest. As he fought the voice in his head, and the niggling doubt of his control, the man dragged his knee up sharply, ramming it into Cade's stomach. As Cade pulled away with a hiss, his dagger sliced a thin line across the man's neck. The man yanked back, and for a moment, he simply stared at Cade.
Caderyn could see it in his eyes. "Don't run," he said, swallowing thickly, the blood already pumping to his legs. Prey, his mind whispered.
The man's eyes widened. "What are you?"
My eyes, he thought. They always gave him away. "Don't run," he repeated firmly.
The man shoved away from the wall, and ran.
Caderyn's mind blanked. Instinct surged, overwhelming him, and he quickly gave chase. Prey, prey, prey. The word circled his mind, consumed his thoughts, until all he knew was the chase.
The crowd proved less of a problem this time. He easily ducked and slid around them, his gaze focused solely on the back of his prey. The man shoved others into the line of fire, tossed tables and chairs as he ran through the shelter. None of them stopped him. He vaulted over an overturned table, sidestepped a woman shoved into his path, and lunged at the man as he reached the doorway. The man hit the ground hard; big men could never keep their balance. By the time his large chest connected with the dirt, Caderyn's daggers were already in both of his hands, and slipped easily into the exposed flesh of the man's back.
The man gargled and choked on his own blood. Caderyn stood, listening to him die, his mind slowly clearing. He stared down at the man for a long moment, barely aware of the crowd around him, and the voices whispering about 'that animal'.
I told him not to run, he thought, staring at the man. I warned him. Why do they never listen?
Footsteps approached. Cade stiffened, and glanced over his shoulder to find men with swords surrounding him. They wore dark armor, their swords crafted from fine steel, gleaming in the moonlight. Expensive armor and weapons, all uniform in color. A patrol of the city watch. Usually, they steered clear of areas like this, with the homeless and sick; they protected those willing to pay for their services, and the people here had little to give save the shirts on their backs. The guards usually didn't venture this far into the outer ring of the city, but tonight, of all nights, they decided to patrol here. Or, perhaps they were told to be here. Was someone following him? Was someone after him?
Just my luck.
"I don't want any trouble," he said.
"It's a little late for that, don't you think, lad?" The men with the swords stepped closer. The one in front, the one speaking with him, seemed to be the leader. "Put your weapons down and come with us."
A tremor slid through him. "I can't." He could lay down his weapons no more than he could let himself lose a fight; it went against his very core. He was not prey, he was the hunter.
The man eyed him warily. He wore a helmet matching his armor, so Cade couldn't make out his face, but he could see the whites of his eyes through the slits in the helmet. "Put your weapons down!"
The instincts were flaring to life once again. He could feel himself losing control this time; could feel logic fading away. All that remained was fight or flight; kill or be killed. That was all there was. That was all there would ever be.
"Sweet Ariiu, what is wrong with his eyes?" another murmured, behind the man in charge.
Said man faltered, staring at him. "Seize him, men!"
They charged forward.
Cade jumped back, sidestepping the first two strikes before he felt a presence behind him. He ducked instinctively, and heard the whistle of the sword cutting through the air above him. He thrust his light, straight dagger backward, into the stomach of the person behind him, even as he sliced sideways with his curved, dark dagger, Shadow. It connected with a slashing sword, deflecting the attack as he twisted out of the way, wrenching Shimmer free of his attacker's stomach. The man fell behind him, but Caderyn's mind was already focused on the two men lunging at him, swords raised and already swinging. He twisted the daggers deftly in his grasp, wrenching his arms up painfully to deflect the incoming swipes, even as he kicked out with his leg, tripping one of them. As they connected with the ground, he jumped over them and away from the corner they tried to back him into.
By this point, many of them were staring at him, even as they tried to close in again.
"It's the animal!" one of them hissed from somewhere behind him. "It's the bloody animal! Gods take you!"
"Hold your position!" another snapped. "Don't let him escape! He can't fight all of us."
Movement caught his eye, and he glanced over to find a man attempting to sneak into his blind spot. The man froze under the heat of his glare, and Caderyn could feel him about to flee.
"Don't run," he hissed.
The man flinched back quickly. Cade's mind locked onto the movement. Fear. Backing away. Running.
He lunged at the man. Prey, prey, prey. His daggers sank deep into the man's chest and stomach. The momentum left the man tripping on impact, and he fell back. Cade rode him down, rolling off him when he hit the dirt, and he quickly brought those daggers back up to catch the downward swing of another sword.
As he deflected the attack, another sword managed to catch him off guard. He couldn't twist away in time. The tip of the sword nicked his side; pain cleared his mind only for a split second, before the haze took over once more and he snarled, turning his gaze onto the man who dared to harm him. The man's eyes widened beneath his helmet; the fear scent overwhelmed Caderyn's nostrils.
"Don't-" Cade started, but the man bolted.
A sword whistled through the air, swinging at him from his right. He deflected with one dagger as he threw the other at the retreating form. It caught the man in the hip, and he released a scream as he went down, yanking the blade out of him.
Cade danced away from a downward swipe, moving quickly toward the downed man, but in his haste he left his flank open to attack. The swipe down his back left pain sparking through his body and mind; the haze lifted, his focus wavering, but when he saw the downed man scrambling to get up and away from him – the haze returned. Prey. He ignored his injures, leaping at the man. He landed on his leg, snapping the bone, and before the man could even cry out from the injury, he'd dragged Shimmer across the man's neck. He dropped him there, in the ground, as the man's body spasmed beneath him. His fingers clasped the hilt of Shadow, and he plucked it from the dirt.
His back blazed and burned. Now that his prey was dead, it was all he could focus on. Pain, his mind screamed. Pain, pain. Kill.
Anger ignited within him. How dare they attempt to trap him like this? Didn't they know what happened when animals were backed into a corner? If they were going to continue calling him an animal, the least they could do was realize what that meant for them.
This part of the curse was the worst, Cade decided. The curse itself was ruthless, but he could live with the heightened senses, even if he hated some of the smells and sounds. He could handle that just fine, but it was this, the killer instinct, which left him forever searching for solitude. If there was no one nearby to hunt, no one to run from him and spark the killer instinct… then he wouldn't need to do this.
Movement snapped him from his thoughts. He barely managed to evade the sword stabbing at him from behind. He twisted out of the way at the last second, the blade catching on his clothing, ripping through it so easily. He staggered away, ripping his clothes further, until they hung off him like the rags they were. He caught scent of sweat and fear, and twisted to ram his curved dagger into the neck of the approaching foe. The man hit the ground with a faint thud, just as still as the others lying dead around him.
Only three attackers remained, including the man in charge of this little assault. Caderyn faced them, stance lower and wide, ready to dodge any way if needed, as he twisted his daggers in his hands, fingers curving around the hilts as though they were crafted just for his hands.
"Do you really want to do this?" Cade asked. "Just let me go. No more need to die tonight."
"You're not getting out of here alive, animal," the leader said, hunched low himself, sword held nimbly in his fingers, both hands wrapped tightly around the hilt.
Cade's grip on his daggers loosened. Too tight a grip would leave him faltering when he needed to move quickly. "We don't have to do this," he said. "I don't want to hurt you."
"You're that freak!" one of the men said, staring at him. "You're that bloody animal!"
A hoarse laugh ripped from his throat. "That's me," he said, nodding. "The boy animal. So, knowing that, do you really want to do this? Hasn't there been enough bloodshed? You can leave with your lives."
"We ain't leaving you free to kill others!" one of the men said.
Caderyn exhaled loudly through his nose. "The hard way, then."
The man to the left moved first. He ran forward with a cry, already swinging his massive sword. It was larger than the other swords the guards had. Greatswords could be quite fierce and strong, but it was most certainly a two-handed weapon, which left the attacker moving slower than average. Cade jumped back and parried with his daggers, before he twisted around, already bringing Shadow up to stab deep into the man's face, right through the cheek and up into his head. He yanked the blade free and turned to face the two remaining men as the third dropped to the ground with a small thud.
"Last chance to back out," Caderyn said.
The man behind the leader took a step back. And another, and another.
"No," Cade said, "don't run-!"
The man turned and ran. Cade hunched low and launched himself forward, chasing after the man. He threw Shimmer and watched as the blade embedded itself into the man's back. The man released a scream of pain as he fell forward, staggering over his feet, before he finally went to his knees, gasping for breath. The scent of blood hung thick in the air. Cade made it to him, and wrenched Shimmer out of the man's back. He shoved the man over, knocking him completely to the ground, and then he dragged his dagger across the man's exposed neck.
Cade stood, wiping the blade clean on his pants before he turned to face the leader. "I can smell your fear," he told him, taking a slow step forward. "We can just go our separate ways."
"You're a monster," the man said. "Biao's unholy creation!"
Caderyn inclined his head. Biao, the god of destruction, or otherwise called the 'feral god'. Fitting, he supposed. "Yeah, some have called me that. I told them not to run, just as I warned you how this would end. You can still walk away, just let me go."
The man's eyes narrowed. "You know I can't do that."
"I didn't take you for the suicidal type."
"Nevertheless… I have a job to do."
A knot twisted heavily in his belly. "Job? Who hired you? Did someone ask you to kill me?"
"The orders were to bring you in alive… but it will be an honor to kill you for what you have done."
Cade's teeth ground together almost painfully, a muscle jumping in his jaw. "If that is your wish." He exhaled slowly. "I'll make it quick."
The man moved first. They always did.
He came in low and fast, slashing at Cade's feet rather than his body – a bold approach, to be sure. Few tried it. Cade darted left, deflecting the sword's strike with Shimmer. The resulting impact and the angle left the dagger dropping from his grip to land in the dirt at his feet, and in that moment, the man swung again, high and strong. Shadow barely caught the blow; his only saving grace was the fact this dagger was curved along its ragged edge, tapering off in what some might call waves. It caught the downward strike and settled, and Cade kept his grip tight. A second later, a boot caught him full in the stomach and he staggered back two quick steps, attempting to regain the air stolen from him.
As the sword came around at him again, he jumped back and ducked beneath the blow, lashing out with his foot to knock the man's legs from underneath him. The man hit the ground on his side, and by the time he looked up, Caderyn's dagger was being pulled from the side of his neck, a spurt of blood following the curved blade. He grimaced as the light faded from the man's eyes, and let him drop heavily onto the ground. Standing, he looked around in a slow circle – there were bodies everywhere. People he killed.
Some tried to flee. Others were simply self-defense.
He picked up Shimmer, and sheathed both his daggers on his back. Water began to drip lazily from the sky, little spits of rain. These people were the city watch, the king's men, and Darik the Dark would not take kindly to this insolence. Caderyn tried not to kill guards if he could help it; he'd sooner leave them be, but they left him no choice. He told them to just let him go, and they needn't die. They never listened.
There would be a bounty on his head after this. Perhaps, given that last man's words, there already was.
He sighed, and headed back inside the shelter. People stepped aside immediately, allowing him a clear path toward the staircase. A few whispered things like 'animal', and 'killer', but none tried to stop him. He jogged up the steps and stopped at the second floor. It was dark and quiet, save for the pelting of the rain against the wooden roof. Thunder echoed through the hallway, lightning momentarily illuminating a window at the far end. He walked quietly down the hallway, footfalls light and even, and then came to the second door on the right.
He'd never been up here before. He met with Mairy yesterday, downstairs. She said to have him meet her when the job was finished, but by the time he got here, the hour was late and she'd retreated to her room upstairs. He had no way to know which room was hers, except for his sense of smell. The curse did have its advantages, after all. Even if he did have to endure being called 'animal' all the time. Even if he had to feel like an animal.
He knocked twice, went silent, and knocked thrice more. He heard a bed creak, and footfalls padding toward the door. As it opened, he flashed a smile at the young woman who scowled at him. There was a single candle lit in the room behind her, casting odd shadows across her face.
"You're late," she said, folding her arms across her chest.
"Sorry," he said. "I would have been here sooner but your doorman wouldn't see reason."
Her full lips pursed into a thin line. "Please tell me Oddec is still breathing."
"Well…" he said, glancing away.
"Caderyn," she hissed.
"I told him not to run," he snapped, throwing her a quick glare. "And he'd still be alive if you just told him to expect me."
The fight went out of her as quickly as it appeared. "I hate you," she said. "Did you at least finish the job?"
"Yes," he said, nodding. "It's done. Brent Harwood won't be troubling you anymore."
"Well… small blessings, at least."
Brent Harwood was a bandit in town who kept hassling this shelter, and Mairy. The city watch wanted little to do with the poor and ill, so despite Mairy's attempts, they refused to help. They said they could spare no men to handle such a trivial matter. It didn't matter that Harwood had killed men here, in this very shelter, just to make his point. It didn't matter that he stole from them, despite the fact they had nothing to give.
So, Mairy came to Caderyn. She knew of his curse, and knew killing sated him, if only for a little while. She occasionally threw him odd jobs to protect her shelter, and paid him room and board, food, and sometimes coin. She never had much to give, but she always paid her debts. Cade could appreciate that.
Still, the doorman was new. It was usually an older guy who knew Cade by sight if not by reputation. Caderyn hadn't seen him in a while now, though.
"Some of the king's men were waiting outside," Cade said, watching Mairy carefully. She was a pale-faced, wide-eyed beauty, with long, flowing brown locks and full lips. He always thought she was pretty, and sweet, but with a bite to her if someone messed with her shelter. Now, he watched as her dark eyes hardened, and a haze began to settle over his mind. "You set me up."
"I had to," she said, calmly. "They threatened to burn down the shelter if I didn't tell them where you were, or where you'd be."
"So you told them I was doing something for you. You told them I would come here, and they waited out of sight, and downwind. Clever," he said, with a small incline of his head. "But they failed."
"You killed them?" she asked, eyes widening.
"Have a nice night, Mairy." He flashed her a smile, all teeth and no mirth. "Pray that we don't see each other again."
He turned on his heel and walked away, before the haze could consume him. Already, he could smell her fear, ached to wrap his fingers around the hilt of his blade and watch the light fade from her eyes. He quickened his pace, made his way down the stairs, and left the building.
The sky was angry, thunder breaking the quiet patter of the rain, the lightning ominous as it tore through the clouds to ignite the sky in fractured patterns. He looked up at the sky, heard the thunder rumbling in the distance, and laughed.
How was it, that he only felt normal in the rain?
The rain covered the other scents he usually smelled. The thunder dulled his hearing. The water pelting against his face left his mind feeling more focused than it had in a while.
Would that I was normal, he thought, water running down his face.
He'd never be normal.
Perhaps, in death, he would be the same as everyone else. Finally, truly, the same.
Death picked no favorites. Saahar treated everyone equally.
Only then would he be normal.
Only then would he be free.