Thursday, August 20, 2015

Dark King Rising: Chapter One

Here's the entire first chapter of "Dark King Rising" for your enjoyment. If you like it, leave a comment or send an email to our[.]lady[.]of[.]ashes[@]gmail[.]com


Looking up from “Howling Laughter”, Marie sought the eyes of her audience. Somewhere out of sight a coffee machine whirred. The smell of freshly ground coffee, cinnamon, and vanilla, permeated the back room of Hannibal’s Bazaar. She dropped her eyes back to the page, skimming along until she found her marked place and put her finger there.

“Timothy gripped the edge of the carpet with both hands,” she said. Chairs creaked as patrons sat forward. “The doors were there at hand, but they might as well have been ten thousand years away as he struggled against the tongue seeking to snatch him down into the depths.”

The polite chuckle used as a door chime sounded and Marie looked up again. Naomie shook out her umbrella in the doorway. They shared a smile and Marie went back to her reading.

“Timothy’s skin burned under its tight grip, yet he hauled himself forward on his stomach. Under his nose, the carpet smelled stale as old chips. ‘Let me go,’ he cried. It yanked, its length caught around the bulb of his ankle.”

Someone coughed and one of the quiet wait staff came into the room bearing a cappuccino. She set it down beside a young man who wore his headphones around his neck. His sandy blonde hair reminded Marie of wheat in summer.

“Struggling, Timothy kicked as hard as he could. He connected with his own foot and grunted. Then he tried scrapping one foot against the other, anything to dislodge the creature holding him. The grip slacked then tightened. Digging with his toes, Timothy worked on it. The tongue rolled across the bulb of his ankle, sliding down until it was against his heel. He was almost free. Timothy kept sliding until with a peeling sound the tongue came loose. Then he surged forward, throwing his body toward the doors that were just out of his reach.” Clearing her throat, Marie reached for the glass of water set there for her. It was flavored with just a touch of seltzer and lavender, only enough to give it some taste. After taking a sip, she let out her breath in a slow half-whistle. “Scrambling forward on his hands and knees, Timothy did his best to forget what he had just passed. The floor here was free of mouths and he crawled hastily. Before him, two doors rose until they touched the high ceiling. They were red and gilt, each bearing a small lion’s head for a doorknob. Beyond it was maybe safety, or perhaps another of the Jester’s tricks. Timothy was tired of his tricks, but there was nothing he could do but go forward. His mission demanded it. He had to get the voice and the only way to get it was through the Jester.”

She hadn’t marked much to read. This was mostly supposed to be a signing and question and answer session. In her mind, she had pictured two or three people showing up if anyone did at all. Yet the back room of Hannibal’s Bazaar was packed full. There must have been thirty people who had showed up in the rain to hear her speak. Marie cleared her throat again.

“I suppose you want to hear more?” she asked. For several heartbeats there was nothing then the young man she had noticed earlier said,

“Of course. We would love to hear more. What does Timothy find beyond the doors, Ms. Coren?”
Hearing her maiden name was a little jarring, but she had to remember it was her unmarried name that was on the books.

Another person, a woman in a flowery blouse, said,
“Yes, what does Timothy find beyond the door?”

Tracking her fingers down the page, Marie looked for where she had left off. Timothy was in deep trouble indeed. In a few moments, he would be face to face with the Jester for the first time in the bloody theater.  A few people shifted in their seats, but no one got up to leave. Naomie appeared in the doorway again, this time carrying a coffee cup that steamed.

“The lion heads were cold under his hands, but he twisted them hard and pushed forward. The doors banged open to a room full of seats. The chairs all stared forward at a stage sitting high and shadowed before them. The carpet muffled his footsteps. Suddenly, up on the stage a floodlight popped on. It deepened the shadows at the edge of the room and momentarily blinded Timothy. He was then accosted by laughter. It rolled back from the walls like a caught wave threatening to drown him. Shaking his head to clear it of the sound, Timothy started down the aisle toward the stage and its bright glow. The wave of laughter hit again, but as it moved away he could hear whispering. He looked over his right shoulder at the walls, looking for someone to be there. There was nobody there, but along the wall marched children his age. The mural was painted in immediate detail, each child so real they could have walked off the wall. The whispering came back and Timothy could hear it more clearly this time. ‘Go now. Go now. He’s coming.’ At first, Timothy had thought all the children on the wall were asleep, but he was wrong. Every so often among them there were faces that were awake, terrified awake. One of them, a young man with brown hair wearing red and blue striped pajamas, was mouthing words at him so Timothy drew closer. ‘Go now. Go now.’ Standing there next to him, Timothy pressed his ear to the wall. ‘Who’s coming,’ Timothy asked. ‘The Jester. He’s coming. If you don’t leave, you’ll die.’”

Marie stopped there. One member of the audience fidgeted, the others sat like stone. Each breath in the room was quiet. She flipped the page. The page number glared at her, a reminder that she must not read too much of the climax. There was still something left to be revealed. She smiled at those who sat waiting.

Naomie sidled into a seat in the back and smiled back at her. Marie took a slow breath, settling each nerve the way a tuner settles piano strings. It was still a new thing, appearing in front of crowds. Kevin was a natural at it, but he’d also been doing it for years. She had only begun to become famous and maybe she would be more famous than him. There was no telling, but if this reading was an indication, more people than a few were reading her books. That was a beautiful thing.
Turning back to the book, Marie closed her eyes and envisioned again what it had been like writing the coming scene. She could smell the coffee going cold in the mug on her desk and hear the understated hum of her netbook. Her hands caressed the keys, then pounded out each individual word. It was a satisfying thing to write.

“As the mural finished speaking, the laughter came again but it was followed by applause. Timothy scanned the theater. The seats were empty, but it was as loud as a standing ovation around him. He turned away from the wall again heading for the stage. He reached the orchestra pit and found himself face to face with the front of the stage. Looking left then right, he searched for a way to get up there. The only light was still coming from the spotlight. It was so bright it brightened some of the room. Timothy walked along the front of the stage cringing at the rolling laughter which came and went in tides. Finally at the edge, he saw a staircase. Some of the children were mounting those stairs from the wall. Timothy put his hand on the railing but snatched it back when he encountered something sticky. He held his hand up before his eyes. It was streaked with blood. Just then another wave of laughter rolled through and he reconsidered whether or not to continue forward, but he couldn’t go back. Back meant into the hallway of desperate mouths and wagging tongues. It also meant going without his objective: the voice of the Dark King. No, he had to press forward and face what lay ahead. Without touching the railing, he headed up the stairs.”

Marie paused.

Several people had shifted toward her as she read. Marie counted them. They were so eager. Like ravenous carnivores waiting for something to fall so they could feast. There was a little bit of sweat on her palms, but mostly she was cold. Shivers came and went intermittently. Was it them or the book? Strange sensations came with her work. It was just the way it was. She wrote strangely and the work had differing effects on her. “Howling Laughter” made her feel hollow and scared. The other two books, “Grave Silence” and “Maddening Whisper”, had their own effects. To each their own.
“The floor of the stage was tar black. Heavy plush curtains in the maroon of dried blood hung to hide the wings. The spotlight was a grand circle of light, empty one moment, then full the next. Timothy hadn’t expected the sudden appearance so he drew back a step. The man standing in the spotlight was tall, but not freakishly so. He turned toward Timothy and bowed low. All sound stopped. The thud of Timothy’s heart in his chest was loud in the sudden silence. ‘Welcome, welcome, young boy,’ the apparition said. ‘So you’ve come for my master’s voice?’ Timothy drew his shoulders back and said, ‘Yes.’ It was then that the Jester opened his eyes and Timothy could see how empty they were. ‘And what will you do to gain this?’ ‘Anything.’ ‘Anything,’ the Jester said. ‘Methinks the boy does speak in haste for he has no idea what anything could truly entail.’ Timothy watched the creature with narrowed eyes, waiting for when this pleasant conversation was going to come to an end. None of the Dark King’s minions so far had been in the mood to bargain, so why should this one be? The Princess had said the Jester was the worst of them, yet he had done nothing to Timothy yet. However, the night was still young and there was always the chance things could start to go a lot worse in a hurry. ‘Whatever you want to throw at me, I can beat.’ Spoken like the truly confident fifteen year old boy that he was. ‘Then we shall begin,’ the Jester said. With a wave of his hands, a set of cards appeared in his grip. The shuffle was gigantic in the silent theater. Then he spread the cards out on air. All fifty-two hung without string in the air above the stage floor. ‘Come closer and pick a card.’”
Taking a sip of water, Marie considered how much further she was willing to go. It wasn’t much further now that she would get to the box, but she wasn’t ready to talk about that yet. Let them read and find out. Instead, she closed the book. It wasn’t as if she could lose her place, she knew the book intimately. It had been the anchor for her nightmares for long enough. Every detail was seared into her brain.

“I think that’s enough for now. Wouldn’t want to spoil the ending for anyone?”

There was a collective groan from the audience.

“Certainly just one more page?” A young woman in a purple t-shirt asked. She seemed almost radiant with disappointment at this turn of events. “One more page?”

“I’m sorry, no. It would give away too much.” Marie sipped from her water. “However, if you really want to know what happened to Timothy after he met with the Jester, you’ll just have to read the book.”

A soft chuckle went through the patrons. Of course, that was always the answer: buy the book. Authors loved that sort of thing. After all, sales and reviews were the two things that helped keep an author going.

“Since we still have some time left, would anyone like to ask any questions? And no, I won’t be talking about what happens at the end of this book or the next one.” Another bit of laughter sparked up between those attending. The talk of the fourth book, already titled and supposedly in the works, was at the top of all the lists. There had even been talk of someone hacking her computer to get the newest manuscript, but she truly doubted anyone would actually try that. She wasn’t that famous.

“I was wondering, Ms. Coren, if you might discuss the Mad Princess from the second book a little bit? She seems like she might have been a remarkable woman if she hadn’t fallen in with the wrong crowd.”

Marie pushed a long dread out of her face and took in the woman asking the question. She looked like someone who had come from a corporate job, rather like Naomie, very polished and put together in her white blouse and black suit jacket.

“There is a lot to the Mad Princess, that is true,” Marie said. “She might have been fighting for women’s equality if she weren’t so enamored of a mad man. I patterned her after the women who fall in love with serial killers.” That got a sympathy chuckle. “And a good friend, as well.”

“I would think you would have created her after an enemy since you locked her in a tower away from her lover and gave her a bunch of mirrors that tell her lies.”

“The mirrors only tell her what she wants to hear. It is her own fault they tell lies. She doesn’t want to hear the truth.” The villainess of her second book, “Maddening Whisper,” was also a popular topic of conversation. Several other hands had popped up while Marie answered those questions. The young man with the headphones was waving his hand back and forth as if he were listening to a song. An older, portly, gentleman had also put up his hand showing some liver spots. Marie picked the old man next.

“Is it true then that you use people you know as your characters?”

“Yes, people I know well and can sort of see what they would like if they were far darker than they are. It’s a method of distortion, I suppose.” Marie paused and blushed. “But of course I don’t mean any harm by it. It’s just fiction after all.”

“Of course,” the man agreed. He then got up slowly and made his way in the direction of the bathroom. After him, Marie called on the young man with the headphones who was still be-boping along as if he were alone in the room.

“Ms. Coren, I was wondering if you might tell us when the next book will be out.”

It was Marie’s turn to laugh. Then she shook her head.

“I couldn’t even begin to tell you that because the first draft isn’t even finished. The fact that it has a title is the only thing about it that’s finished. You’ll just have to wait like everyone else, I’m sorry.”
He truly looked crestfallen when she said that, but there was no other answer. Marie had only just started on the draft of the final book, “Dark Scream”. Her editor hadn’t even seen any of it yet to see if she was heading in the right direction with it. There was going to be a lot of work between the time that Marie finished it and it came out. They were just going to have to be patient.

One of the Bazaar employees stepped into the doorway and announced the time before saying,

“The bar will be closing in ten minutes if you’re interested in booze. The coffee bar will be open for another half hour and Ms. Coren’s time is about up, so you might wish to make sure you’ve picked up your copy from the counter so she can sign them for you.”

“Thank you, Bradley,” Marie said. Her copy sat on the table untouched. “Who wants to be first? Shall we form a line.”

There was a bit of confusion as people started shifting around to get into a semi-orderly line in front of the table. They had each purchased their copy through the Bazaar, which also served as a book store, and she was more than happy to sign copies before the shop closed. It had been a successful venture having her book signing there.

Naomie maneuvered to be the last in line and she had a copy in her hands. When Marie saw her standing there, she broke into another, much more genuine, smile.

“Make this one out to Ray, if you would,” Naomie said. Her British accent was comforting after hearing so many unfamiliar voices.

“He really likes the series, doesn’t he?”

“He wouldn’t miss a book of yours if he were locked in a Syrian prison.”

“That’s high praise.”

“It is. You have a coveted spot on the nightstand next to the bed. Stacked with his Raymond Chandler.”

Marie scrawled her name in the book and added,

“To a dear friend without whom none of this would be possible.”

“Thank you,” Naomie said, stuffing the book in a satchel at her side. “Are you all done for the night?”

“Have to go make nice a little more, but pretty much done?” Marie was careful not to roll her eyes at the idea of having to make nice some more. It was not beneath her so much as it was exhausting and she felt like she needed a bath to scrub the smarmy off when she was done. Selling her books was not her strong point.

“You still up for drink at Mercutio’s tomorrow night with Rebecca?” Their mutual friend, Rebecca Hallowman, had a prior engagement which kept her from being able to come out on that particular night, but they had promised to meet for drinks that weekend and have a little girl time.

“Of course. I need to get out some while I’m working on things,” Marie stuck her pen in the top of her purse and began to move toward the door, saying quiet goodbyes as she went.

“So I have a theory about your books,” the young man with the headphones said as she was slipping past him.

“Oh,” Marie said. “And what is that?”

“That you’re setting us all up for a massive switch where it really turns out that the kids are putting him back together so that he really can take over the world.”

“Oh.” Marie shook her head then grinned. “I guess, you’ll just have to read the books and find out. Still one more to go.” Then Naomie took her arm and they were out the door. Up at the counter, Ray was paying for a beer.

“You really don’t need that if you’re going to be driving,” Naomie said as she wrapped her arm around her beau.

“I won’t be driving, you will be, and I’m sure you’re just fine with your head full of coffee.”

“What, don’t complain, I have another set of depositions in the morning and I have to be completely up to speed on this case by then. That means another late night.”

“I wish we were having the kind of late night I prefer,” he said before planting a kiss on his girlfriend’s forehead. “But you go and get the bad guy. I’ll stand back and root you on.”

“Thank you,” Naomie said sipping her drink. “Oh, I got this for you. Signed and everything.” She showed him the book she had put away in a flurry of paperwork.

“Oh cool. First printing, signed, all the good stuff,” Ray said dropping back his beer. He flipped the book over to look at the back. “Written by New York Times Best Selling Author Marie Coren.” His amusement radiated. “Didn’t think I would ever know a New York Times Best Selling Author.”

“I never thought I would be one,” Marie admitted. She scanned the menu board written in bright colored chalk between the hanging lanterns. “I would like a plain decaf coffee.”

“Don’t you ever order anything exciting,” Naomie said as she nudged her friend in the ribs. Marie just shook her head again.

“Nope, never. Nothing but the boring for me, all the time.” The barrista, Tonya, poured her cup steaming from a pot sitting on a burner. The thermos they usually used were sitting on the sink having already been washed. She set it on the counter in front of them and said,

“Compliments of the house, Ms. Coren, don’t you worry about it. You made us a lot of money tonight.”

“Thanks Tonya.”

“You’re welcome. Come back any time.”

“And buy the lovely coffee and the fabulous pastries and the various horror nicknacks that you put out.”

Tonya smirked and bobbed her head, yes. Marie picked up the cup and took an experimental sip. It was definitely warm, but not so hot she couldn’t drink it. The creamer would make it more than palatable. Leaving the group, she went over to the floating island that looked like a gurney from a bloody medical drama to put some cream and sugar in her coffee. It was then that her coat started vibrating.

The cellphone had been on the entire time, but on silent so that it wouldn’t disturb the festivities. Besides, there were very few people she even talked to on it, so there was little chance she would miss a call. She grabbed out the phone with one hand while pouring milk with the other. Looking at the screen, she suppressed a groan. Today had been such a good day. Finding a stir stick, she considered whether or not to answer it. He might be in a good mood. Finally, on the third round of manic buzzing, she pressed the green button and then speaker.

“Good evening, Kev,” she said before taking another test sip of her coffee. Was the milk enough or did it need sugar?

“Moll, darling.” His voice sounded sweet, but that was sometimes a trap. She’d learned. “I was wondering when you were coming home?”

“I’ll be there in about twenty minutes. The book signing just ended. I just have to get a cab.” If he had been paying attention to her schedule, he would have known that much, but there was always the chance he’d sort of forgotten about it, the way he did most things that weren’t immediately related to him.

The coffee was sweet enough. She popped a lid on it and stood there waiting for Kevin to say something else.

“I was hoping we could spend some time together.”

“I was hoping to get in the shower and go to bed, I’m really tired.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Right. I guess I can take a rain check.”

“Okay.” Marie heard the words coming out of her mouth and while she didn’t necessarily regret them, she did feel some measure of sadness over what they expressed. Kevin loved her, at least so she thought. It was just too much to be around him.

“Goodbye.”

“Good night.”

Maybe he would be asleep by the time she made it in. Or have gone out. Either way, she would rather have the bed to herself after her long day instead of trying to avoid the topic of making love to a man she still loved but could barely tolerate.

As she pressed the red button on her phone, she sighed. When she looked up, Naomie was watching her, but her friend didn’t say anything. They just shared a silent moment before Naomie turned back to Ray grabbing him by the arm. Ray looked at her affectionately and kissed her on the cheek.

“Do you need a ride home,” Ray asked a few minutes later as the three stood outside of the Bazaar with the rain falling in thick waves.

“No, I’ll take a cab.”

“No really, we could drop you at home,” Naomie insisted. “It’s not out of the way.”

“I need to clear my head. I’m sorry. It’s just been a long day.”

“And it didn’t’ help that Kevin just called.”

“That too.”

Ray shook his head and held out his arm to Naomie who opened her umbrella over them both.

“You should probably go back inside and have Tonya call you a cab,” he suggested. “It’s kind of a mess out here.”

“There will be one a block over. If I run, I won’t get too wet.” Marie held her bag over her head and started out into the rain. The other two caught up with her before she made it across the parking lot.

“Are you sure you don’t just want a ride home?”

“I’m sure. You two enjoy your night.” Marie trudged off, leaving them behind. A block away she found an empty cab and collapsed into the backseat. It would be a short ride to get home and she would need every minute to compose herself.

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