The prologue of the first book in a series of 5 fantasy novels I'm writing.
The Fall of Drail
“You will tell us who you are, and what you are doing here, or you will die. It is that simple.”
Favoir’s mind raced, endlessly searching though the vast amount of information coursing through his brain. His head still ached from the blow that had left him unconscious for what he assumed must have been hours. The colours of the room danced in front of his eyes, denying him a clear view of his surroundings.
He knew in his heart that nothing he said would appease his captors, but he would not be the fool who would remain silent until his death.
“I’ve told you, I’m nothing more than a messenger. I… I shouldn’t even be here, my place is in Asfulen,” he stuttered in desperation. “I must see their King.”
The dark skinned man, leaning over the chair Favoir was chained to, chuckled to himself. “You expect me to believe that a rat like you would be granted an audience with the King of Asfulen? You must take me for a foolish one indeed.” He slowly stroked the dull edge of the knife he carried with his index finger as he spoke, as if to mock the wreck of a man Favoir had become.
“I don’t know what more you want me to say. I…” For one of the few times in his life his words failed him as he struggled to remain conscious. He had not eaten in days; his stomach pleaded for some nourishment, but his captors extended his torture to denying him food.
“Lost your tongue?” the man mocked further. Suddenly his eyes filled with both rage and pleasure as he crashed his fist into Favoir’s hand, buckled to the chair arm. Newly healed bones cracked. He winced as the pain surged though his body, but knew if he had been fully awake it would have felt far worse. None the less the pain in his head felt dulled in comparison.
“I could do it right now,” the man continued, playful fire in his eyes. “Cut out your tongue, stop you spewing such shit.” For a brief and admittedly foolish moment Favoir contemplated spitting at his captor, whose face was but inches from his own. But he was not that man, he was just a messenger. Once his words had failed him, he had nothing; nothing but honesty at least, even if it wouldn’t get him far.
“I haven’t said an untrue word, not one. You’ve had me here for what must have been three days now. Three days without food, without water, I don’t even have clothes! And you think I would still lie to you?” He knew he was ranting, but he was too desperate to care. “Look at me?” As he said this he glanced down at the famished, battered, naked body he possessed, hopeless and constricted by the thick steel chains at his wrists and feet. “Do I look like the sort of man who doesn’t buckle under torture?” His voice cracked with dehydration. “Of course I would, I’m just a person, a normal man caught up in something I don’t understand.” His captor’s eyes tightened as he listened. “I’m sorry what happened to your people, I truly am, but-“
“You know what happened last time you spoke out of line. Don’t you dare try to show empathy.” His voice was suddenly less playful, and a thousand fold more intense. For that short moment his cruel, mocking nature vanished and all that remained was the voice of a man stricken by grief, and burdened by anger. It was the same look his previous interrogator had given him, as Favoir had told of his sadness at the terrible loss the nation of Drail had suffered. He recalled the terrible beating he had received with little fondness.
“Now,” he said in a different tone, masking his soul once more as he stood from his seat and paced the room. “I’m going to give you one last opportunity to answer my questions in a more civilised manner. If you tell me the truth, you shall either be freed, or at the least granted a quick and dignified death.” At this Favoir’s stomach lurched madly. He was far, far too young to die. A foolish thought entered his head, a strange yearning for a long and drawn out death if it meant he could cling to a few more precious moments of life.
“Or you can continue to lie to us, try to defend your fellow northern rats, and foolishly attempt to empathise with a horror you could not possibly understand, in which case I shall give you the same level of respect, and end you in ways that would cause you pain so terrible that your own mother would die of shock and heartbreak at the description of how you left this world.” Favoir said nothing, neglecting to mention that his mother had been dead seven years. “So, which do you choose? Can we not be civil with each other?”
“You don’t understand the meaning of civil.” The instant the words left his mouth he regretted them.
“Very well, you have made your answer quite clear,” he said casually, slowly strolling out of the room. In a moment of panic, Favoir realised he was leaving through the same door the other men had emerged from with their various torture devices. They had left him with a new understanding of agony. The thought of suffering that again was too much.
His captor stopped.
“I can be civil.” The man turned his head and smiled. Not a small, sly smile, but a huge grin that revealed his neat yellow teeth. An image of pure joy; that was the face of the one who would kill him, Favoir realised with morbid certainty.
“You have no idea how pleased that makes me.”
Favoir squeezed the armrests of the stone chair with his broken fingers, scraping at the corners subconsciously. This was it, his final effort, a last ditch attempt to save his own life. He felt fear, but not the sheer panic he had expected. The childish part of him deduced that he had finally come to terms with the idea of his own death, entering into those final beautiful moments where he was left in the company of simple acceptance. Often he had believed he possessed no fear of dying, after the numerous tragedies that had plagued his immediate family, leaving him alone but mentally hardened. But now that he was here, his intelligent mind knew that he did not fear death for any reason other than because he could not understand it. No matter how hard he tried his brain could not fathom the idea that he could be here now and nothing but memory in a matter of minutes. He was grateful for this lack of understanding. It made his pleading controllable.
“This is going to be a simple process,” the man said as he sat back down, slouching as if conversing with a friend. Favoir hated that the man seemed to be enjoying himself. “I am going to ask you a series of simple questions, and you are going to answer them. And no…. how is it you nobles say it… bullshit, ok?”
Favoir grimaced. “None.”
“Perfect. Let us begin.” Favoir bit his lip in response, and knew he would feel bemused by the oddity of the situation were he not a part of it himself.
“What is your name?”
“Favoir.” His voice felt weak and alien, shaking even at the mention of his own name.
“Good. Where are you from?”
“Dolindium.” At this the man showed a small but noticeable flicker of disgust in his expression, before returning to his impassive stare.
“Where in Dolindium?”
The man squeezed his fist in annoyance. “What town, what city? It is a simple question.”
“I meant the city. Dolindium, the city itself, not the entire nation.” This time the look of disgust was clearly noticeable and did not leave.
“Ah I see. I do apologise for my lack of knowledge of your nations confusing geography.” This man clearly had no love of The Provinces, yet Favoir doubted he had ever set foot within her borders. “Moving on, who were your companions?”
“Soldiers, seven of them. They went by the names Mert, Dean-“
“I don’t want names, that means nothing to me. All I ask for is an explanation as to why you were travelling with seven of your King’s soldiers so far south through our land.” Favoir knew he had heard the explanation several times before, but gritted his teeth regardless and forced himself to continue.
“We were sent from Dolindium some months ago with orders to obtain trade routes with Asfulen. I was chosen as the messenger, and the men were to be my bodyguards on our mission.”
“And why would you need bodyguards if you simply intended to establish trade?” The answer was obvious. Was this all just a tease?
“Because we have been enemies with Asfulen since before anyone can remember!” he shouted in annoyance.
“Choose your tone carefully rat, remember that you are the one in the chair.”
Favoir closed his eyes for a few seconds, steadying his breathing before continuing.
“Our intentions were peaceful, but after decades of war, walking into the heart of Asfulen alone would have been suicide.” The man nodded slowly, seemingly convinced, before moving on.
“And when you were in Asfulen, did you somehow fail to notice the thousands of soldiers pouring into our lands?”
“We avoided heavily populated areas and key roads as best we could, whilst staying close to your border to avoid the desert. Whatever route the Asfulenian army took into your lands, they did not pass by us.”
“A happy coincidence,” he scowled sarcastically. “And you say it was not the sight of armies, but the sight of smoke that drew you over the border?”
“Not smoke, ash. More ash in the sky that I would ever think possible to exist, blowing over from the west. We had to stay in our tents for days before the cloud thinned and we could leave without risk of choking.” He stopped speaking for a moment but the man beckoned for him to continue.
“When we finally did leave, we decided to risk a detour into your lands to see where the ash was coming from. We crossed the border and found the forests and towns burnt to the ground. It was horrible, and whilst a few of the group wanted to continue to look around, most of us felt sick at the sight of the destruction. It was late so we set up camp just inside your border, and waited for the rest of our party to return.”
Favoir daringly stared his captor in the eyes. “I think you can finish the story from here. The last thing I remember was some of the soldiers shouting, and then suddenly falling unconscious. When I woke I was here.”
“And there is nothing more you wish to add?”
He shook his head.
“In which case, I feel obligated to point out the many flaws in your… story.”
With great effort Favoir remained silent, grinding his teeth in anger and worry inside his skull.
“You said yourself that your nation has been an enemy of the Asfulenians since before either of us can recall. Why then, would you suddenly wish to establish trade?”
“Only the King can really answer that question. But there were rumours, sightings of Asfulenian ships off the north coast of Gahara, as well as reports of a huge recruitment program to bring their armies back to their former strength. We are still recovering from the last war, as well as disease and rebellion. No one wants a war. We fight every decade or so for no logical reason, other than to try and prove which nation is the strongest. I think people are sick of it, and would rather try and show some sort of gesture to end the hostility.”
The man’s eyes tightened. “It seems the recent attack is proof that they have indeed been building up their armies, but not to attack you. As you should know, the Drailen-Asfulenian alliance has always been a strong one. So why should they suddenly turn against us? And why, if they hated you so, would they allow armed Dolindium soldiers to pass so easily through their lands? And why would these soldiers simply wander past the border into Drail if their mission was of such importance? I think we both know the truth here.”
“So what is it?” he shouted madly in rage. “What is this certain truth?”
The man leaned so close his nose touched Favoir’s. He could see every blood vessel in his wild eyes, standing out against his black skin.
“That together you plotted the fall of Drail, forming a twisted and deceitful alliance to end the lives of millions. You have that blood on your hands, rat. And if you are so cowardly and disgusting as to lie to me, even attempt sympathy with a man who has lost his family because of the actions of your nation, then you must be punished.”
His face stayed fixed in front of Favoir’s for what seemed like an eternity, before he left through the door he had walked to previously.
Favoir remained motionless.
Something new was stirring in his memory.
He did not notice his captor returning with the glowing brander. Nor did he fully hear the description of the symbol he would carry with him for the rest of his life. He was locked in a half-conscious state, trying to both forget and remember some terrible new piece of information. It was there, rooted deep within the recesses of his unconscious mind, and it was only as the man pulled up the brander to strike that he finally remembered.
“It’s too late for that,” his captor mocked with an almost unnoticeable flicker of hesitancy, taken aback by Favoir’s apparent lack of concern for what was about to happen to him. Once again he drew up the brander.
“There were figures.”
The man stopped.
“They were hidden in the towns… and on the border, they were there as well. We couldn’t see their skin, but you could feel it, feel them. We didn’t talk about it, but we all knew they were watching us, and that they could have killed us at any time.” He looked up. “Maybe they wanted us to see what they had done?”
A wave of confusion and terror had washed across his captors face. He seemed suddenly devoid of energy, and his once powerful eyes now looked past the physical room as if it didn’t exist. For a few lingering seconds Favoir thought the man was about to fall to the floor, but instead he blinked and breathed heavily, before turning back to Favoir.
“Do you realise how hard it is to live here?” he spoke hauntingly, as if suddenly possessed. “The people of this nation live in a constant unspoken fear, knowing that we are so close.” His voice shook and grew in volume as seeds of anger took root.
“You hide in the north within your thick walls, safe. But we can always feel it, in the backdrop of our lives. You can’t just… you can’t speak of them.”
Something in his demeanour changed, some coping mechanism suddenly kicking in. “It was you who did this, your nation! There is nothing else!”
“You know that’s not true.”
He lunged forward.
As Favoir’s body erupted in agony, a faint noise slipped past the sound of his screams. It was the tolling of a bell.
The man hurriedly rushed away as Favoir’s body smashed against the back of the chair. One final silent scream escaped his lips before he fell limp and unconscious.
A greeting of darkness met Favoir as he woke. The world around him was fuzzy and abstract, shapes and patterns dancing around each other madly. His head ached more than ever before, sending random waves of pain coursing through every nerve. To his side his skin was felt raw and swollen from the brander.
There was no one around, or at least he could hear nothing, his sight rendered useless. Somehow the feeling of being alone felt worse than the death threats from his captors. He could barely make out the thin outline of his own body beneath him.
Suddenly Favoir jumped in his chains. There was a soft creak from the other side of the room. The sound was as delicate as a falling leaf, but the silence of the room made it just audible.
“Please not again,” Favoir pleaded. “I’ve suffered enough-”
Suddenly something changed. As if from the deepest depths of his heart, he felt cold, weak, scared, alone, and above all, a feeling of utter wrongness. It was a sensation he had felt few times before, but one which him, and every other creature that walked the world feared. His mind was ripped apart and replaced with misery and doubt, entrancing him with a strange desire to die.
There was a quiet pat of feet on the floor, slowly coming closer. His heart ached madly. The cogs of his mind were jammed; there was no rational thought, no allowance to think who he was, or why he existed. He forgot love, he forgot hate, he forgot everything except misery. Every other thought was snatched away before it could form. And still the footsteps came ever closer. His breathing was heavy and disjointed. What little water he had left in him glazed his eyes or rolled down his cheeks.
The footsteps stopped.
There were a few seconds of silence. It was in that moment that the captured man of Dolindium was sure in his heart that he was going to die. He had never felt so certain about anything in his life. He had lost many people before, seen them die, and he thought he understood. But now he knew he was wrong. Death had been a word before, a thing to cry about. But in that moment, Favoir truly realised he would never be able to walk through the world again, never see another sunset, never fall in love.
A perfect silver dagger whipped through the air, thrust forward by a pale, smooth, purple-grey hand. Favoir closed his eyes. He felt the pull of the chains, heard metal break like glass, his hands free at last. The footsteps moved away, much faster than before. The door creaked shut, and Favoir sat up, saved by the great enemy.