Update: Recreance is now available on Amazon – Grab yours here!
Launch date is fast approaching, and things are ramping up here as we prepare for the debut release of Recreance: Book 1 of the Aeternum Chronicles on May 16th 2017!
I’m very excited to share with you the first chapter as a sneak peek of what’s to come. Without further ado, here is Chapter 1.
Fourteen hundred years after discovering the secret to eternal life, a battered humanity recovers from centuries of conflict known as the Aeternum Wars. Ruled by the all-powerful Ministry, what is left of humankind huddles in the geo-magnetic powered settlement of New Arcadia.
Chapter 1: Curiosity
It was a foggy, late fall day, and it was the last ordinary day Oren Hart would ever spend in New Arcadia. Deep within the colony’s residential ring, tiny dew droplets formed on the worn playground equipment in Periculum Park. The area was all but deserted, and the late day sun did little to burn off the strange fog hovering amidst the trees.
Oren collapsed into a swing. Its rusty chains squeaked as he pushed off gently with his feet. The low lying mist seemed out of place, but then it wasn’t unusual to have odd weather this time of year. The atmospheric generators could only do so much, and keeping crops alive in the outer ring was a priority for obvious reasons.
“I’m so nervous, Clem. It feels like I’ve already frozen up, and I’m not even in the exam room yet.” Oren shook his head and pushed the curly hair out of his eyes. He was tall for his age, bearing the lanky frame of an adolescent still fumbling through the final stages of puberty. “Seven days until vocats. There’s no way I’m going to be ready.”
“It’s not that bad,” Clementine said from the swing beside him. “Worst-case scenario, you end up cleaning toilets for the Ministry.” She grinned mischievously and jabbed a finger into his ribs. The smile brought an amber glow to her cheeks. She wore her raven-black hair the same as usual: pulled back into a ponytail, bangs swept across her forehead. The fact that Oren was two years her senior did little to dissuade her from teasing him. He buried his face in his hands and groaned.
“Come on dummy. I’m only joking. You’re going to do fine. Look at your father—big brains run in your family.”
“Says the girl who skipped two grades,” he muttered. “My father…” Oren ran a hand through his hair. “When he finds out I’ve failed he’s going to ship me off to the quarries. Clem, I’ll have to haul rocks all day…”
He waited for a response, but none came. “Clem?”
“Did you see that?” she asked. “Something moved out there.” She pointed to the forested edge of the park, toward the setting sun.
“Are you even listening to me?” Oren squinted in the direction she was pointing. “There’s nothing there.”
“I saw something moving. I’m going to check it out.”
Before he could object, she was on her feet jogging toward the trees.
“Clem! Hey! Wait up!” Oren leapt out of his swing and ran to catch up. I hate it when she does that.
“Shhh.” She motioned for quiet and slowed to a walk as they passed into the wood. Oren strained to see deeper into the fog, muttering under his breath.
“There!” she whispered, pointing ahead.
Something was definitely moving. Clem crept forward and crouched behind some thorn bushes. Anxiety settled like a stone in the pit of Oren’s stomach, and he ducked behind the thick trunk of a nearby cedar. Peering around it, he could see a faint gray figure, crouching next to a small stream up ahead. Probably just some animal taking a drink, Oren thought. Clementine crept closer to get a better look.
“Clem wait,” Oren whispered. “It could be dangerous. We should go back…it’s getting dark.”
She ignored him and continued forward.
Why do I even bother?
She took three silent steps and froze.
“What is it?” Oren asked quietly. She reached back and covered his mouth. Seconds later, five dark, hooded forms leapt from tree to tree up ahead. They jumped down silently, forming a half-circle behind the oblivious gray figure and froze. Without warning, they pounced in perfect unison. Before their victim could turn around, she was pinned to the ground, struggling and screaming.
They stood her up, holding out her arms. One of the attackers stood behind her and roughly gripped her head, forcing her to face forward.
“What are they doing to her?” Oren whispered.
The forest grew darker, and a deep, throbbing vibration permeated the air. Oren felt nauseous. Whatever it was, it tugged him forward, producing an unsettling sense of vertigo. He looked down at his feet and realized he had been unconsciously leaning back to maintain his balance. He grimaced, and held tightly to the cedar he had hidden behind.
As if from the darkness itself, a human form melded into view from between the trees. It glided effortlessly toward the woman and slowed to a stop before her. Oren glimpsed an ashen white face, staring out from beneath the hood of a long black cloak. The creature pushed its hood back with gnarled bony hands, and Oren gasped. It wasn’t the pallid skin stretched thin across its skull that struck fear into his heart, nor was it the nearly non-existent nose, marked by two ragged holes in the center of its face. It was the overly large, rippling white eyes peering out at the helpless woman, ensnared in its trap.
“Your time is up, recreant” Its voice was deep, hollow…guttural. Oren could see crimson, blood-stained teeth when it spoke. He reminded himself to breathe.
The woman’s captors lifted her up off the ground, and her dangling legs were pulled toward the terrifying creature. She tried to turn her head away, but it was roughly jerked forward by the hooded figure behind her.
The creature waved a hand dismissively, and they set the woman down, stepping back. She bolted for the stream, but her body jerked to a stop mid-stride with one foot touching the ground. A solitary second passed, and she was violently spun around through the air until she was face to face with the white-eyed horror. She writhed as it spoke, inches from her face.
“Who—helped—you?” Each word dissolved into the next.
The woman’s back arched. Her arms and legs were pulled back, and the air behind her began to ripple.
“You will tell us what you know of the Ko’jin.”
She tried again to turn her head.
Her interrogator casually held out a hand, palm up, and slowly curled its fingers. The rippling bubble of air behind her contracted and her back arched further, eliciting several loud pops. She screamed in agony, startling some birds out of a nearby tree. He opened his hand slightly and she quieted, panting wildly.
Sobbing, she cried, “I don’t know, I don’t know!”
His fingers contracted again, as did the force binding her. Blood vessels stood out on her forehead as she cried out in pain. Oren wanted to look away but couldn’t. Any more and her back would snap like a twig.
Again it relented.
Out of breath and still sobbing, she lowered her head and spoke. Oren could only catch a few words.
“I don’t … who they … … communicated … written …”
“Someone inducted you. Give me a name!” Oren thought he detected a note of excitement in the questioner’s hollow voice.
She hesitated, and he growled at her, “Your kind are pathetic. Weak in both physicality and resolve. You. will. be. BROKEN!” The last word echoed in Oren’s ears from inside his own head.
Clem jerked backwards, coming to her senses. She gave Oren a terrified look and whispered, “Run!”
Oren snapped out of his trance, and the mortal danger of the situation crashed into him. Clem grabbed his sleeve and they ran as quietly as they could through the underbrush back toward the park.
From behind, a female voice screamed, “KHALIL! HIS NAME WAS KHA—” Silence followed.
Clem and Oren hit the grass of the park at a full sprint. They ran without slowing until they reached the corner store three blocks away. Ducking behind the building, they leaned against it, panting wildly. Oren bent forward with his hands on his knees.
“What…was…that?” he said between gasps, “We…we have to tell someone! That woman…”
Clementine was tough, but even she looked visibly shaken. “We tell no one,” she said urgently after recovering her breath. “Did you see those armbands? Those…things were Ministry, Oren. Unless you want to end up like her, you can never tell anyone about this. Ever.”
“What? No, I don’t understand. There’s no way those…things were Ministry,” Oren stammered, and his panic threatened to return. “The Ministry aren’t monsters. I’ve seen Wards helping people.”
“Listen,” Clementine leaned in and said, “You have no idea what they’re capable of, and if you want to keep all the blood on the inside of your body, you will keep your mouth shut.”
“Okay fine, look, I won’t tell anyone.”
Clem relaxed. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
“What do you think it was? The white-faced…thing, I mean.” Oren asked, unsure whether or not he really wanted to know. “Its eyes…”
“I think,” she said, then lowered her voice to a whisper, “I think it might have been a Breaker.”
“A Breaker? What’s that? How do you know?”
“Quiet! Don’t say it so loud,” she scolded. “Before he left…my father…he worked for C-SEC.”
Oren furrowed his brow.
“Civilian Security,” Clem explained impatiently. “He was a city ward.”
Oren’s eyes widened. Clementine rarely, if ever spoke of her father.
“Years ago, when I was little, I remember him coming home late one night. It was the night before my seventh birthday, and I was too excited to sleep. Had I known I’d be the only one to remember I was turning seven, I wouldn’t have been awake,” she said matter-of-factly.
Clem’s eyes looked inward as she recalled that night. “I crept out of my room, and peeked around the corner. My Dad was sitting at the kitchen table. His uniform was unbuttoned and messy, which was strange. Mom was boiling water for tea. She was actually halfway lucid back then…things changed a lot after he left. Anyway, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He looked worried, but also angry or something. I’d never seen him like that before.”
Oren pictured Clem’s mom and dad sitting at a small table late at night as she told him what happened.
“It was a routine drug bust. That’s what they told us. Same old, same old. Bust down the door, arrest the bad guys, and clear the house. Nothing we hadn’t done a hundred times before. So we get to this rundown shack in Seventeen West, and right away I can tell something’s up. No lights on, first of all, which ain’t all that unusual, but this place was quiet…dead quiet. I mean it, not even a stray dog barking. There’s almost always some racket goin’ on in the slums.
“So we get into position and bust down the door, only this time there were no drugs. There wasn’t even any perps inside, unless you count the scrawny old dusker huddled in the closet of the back bedroom. So we haul the guy out, who by the way has completely flipped his scrit at this point. We get two steps out the bedroom door, and something bad goes down. I can’t even explain it, Grayce, but the feeling in that shack changed. It was like the world forgot which way was up.
“I look at Haverford, and he’s lookin’ back at me. Neither of us knows what’s up but we can both tell something’s off. Then it happens. This—thing walks into the shack, only it’s really more sliding than walking. It looked old Grayce. I mean really old, like, the kind of old you only see in museums. And its eyes…they weren’t right. It moved toward us, so we drop the dusker and back up against the wall. I swear to god it looked at me with those eyes and growled. Growled! Like a boiling animal!”
“Shhh, you’ll wake Clementine,” Grayce warned, but he ignored her admonition.
“So here we are, cornered like rats in a cage, when the thing says in the scariest, blood-boiling voice I ever heard, ‘Leave us.’ Haver was out of there faster than a dust-junkie chasing his next fix, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t right behind him. I don’t know what that thing did to the dusker, but the sounds coming from that shack were…unnatural. Later Haver tells me he’s heard of guys like that before. Said it was a Breaker…top level Ministry interrogator. I’ll be boiled before I look one in the eyes again.”
Oren leaned back against the dirty stucco wall of the convenience store, trying to imagine what it must have been like for Clem. Her eyes were still distant. They sat there like that for a while. “I don’t think I’ll be sleeping tonight…or ever again,” he said.
“It’s getting late,” Clem said, “we should probably get home.” She stood and brushed the dirt off the back of her grass-stained jeans.
They walked together in silence down a residential footpath that paralleled the levi-track. It was quiet, save the occasional Ministry levi-transporter zipping by. The night lamps flickered on, casting a dim yellow light on the path.
A low rumble reverberated through the night, and subsided just as quickly.
“Does it sound to you like the quakes are happening more often?” Oren asked, trying to get his mind off earlier events.
Clem seemed to be lost in thought. “More often? I hadn’t noticed.”
“I guess I could be imagining it, but it seems like they’re lasting longer too. I don’t know. It’s probably nothing…Hey Clem?”
She looked at him, obviously still troubled. She was usually better at hiding it.
“If things ever get…rough, at home I mean, you know, you can always come over, right? My parents love company, and they’re always telling me I need to be more social,” he laughed awkwardly.
“It’s fine,” she said tersely. Her expression softened. “I mean, thanks, but I can handle it.”
“Okay, right.” He nodded, and they continued walking. The night air cooled the sweat on Oren’s skin. They arrived at a hedge-lined walkway leading to a modest, two story home. Warm light emanated from the windows, and figures moved inside.
“Hey,” he said. “You wanna come in for dinner? My mom always makes extra, and—”
“No that’s okay,” the words rushed out of her mouth. “I’m already late, and my mom’s going to flip if I’m not home to clean up.”
“Got it. Well,” he paused, “be safe, okay?”
She smiled, exuding confidence. “Safe is my middle name, lamebrain. See you tomorrow.” She turned and continued south toward the apartment complexes beyond the edge of his neighborhood. He stood for a moment, watching her go.
“Tifl!” a voice whispered loudly from behind. Oren nearly jumped out of his skin, and spun around. The footpath was empty. Seriously? Could more weird stuff please happen to me tonight?
“Up here,” the disembodied voice called.
“Are you…in a tree?” Who hides in a tree?
The voice didn’t answer, but some of the branches moved, and the face of a dusk-aged man with wrinkles around his eyes peeked out between the leaves. He was mostly obscured by shadows.
“There is not much time. You must leave New Arcadia,” he spoke with a calm urgency that sent shivers up Oren’s spine. “Tonight.”
“What? Who are you?” Oren asked, backing up. He had spent his entire life in New Arcadia, and would spend the rest of it there too, as would every other human being as far as he knew.
“Who I am is not important. Listen to me, something terrible is coming. If you do not leave now, it will be too late. They are coming for you and your family.”
The blood drained from Oren’s face and he took another step backwards. “You’re insane. You better get out of here before I call the Wards.” His voice was shaking. After everything else that happened today, he was a hair’s breadth from fleeing in blind panic.
Oren turned and ran for the front door. He placed his hand on the doorknob and glanced back to see branches moving in a tree further down the street. He rushed inside, closed the door behind him and leaned back against it, taking deep breaths.
“Oren? Honey is that you?” his mother’s familiar voice called from the kitchen.
“Yeah mom, it’s me.” He took one more breath, doing his best to regain his composure. A savory aroma wafted through the air, the kind that only comes from hours of slow roasted beef. He was so distracted by the day’s events that he hadn’t noticed how ravenous he’d become. Oren kicked off his shoes and walked in, relieved to be back in the familiar setting of his home.
He stopped, noticing for the first time that the living room was full of people. They were standing around and seated on couches, snacking on vegetables and chatting with one another.
The Ascension celebration! Everything else that happened that day fell away. Oren’s heart sank. This was the last time he would ever see Noni. Technically she was his double-great elder Magdalene, but he had always just called her Noni. She had lived nearly one-hundred and fifty years, and would soon be raised by the Ministry to pre-eminent status.
Oren’s Noni sat in a large, padded, throne-like red chair, formally decorated with elaborate, embroidered antimacassars. It was raised on a small platform, up against the wall beneath a portrait of the Patriarch. Oren secretly hated the gaudy painting, and was glad his father only brought it out when company was over.
His Noni had never looked so majestic. Her smooth skin and straight-backed posture belied a depth of years. She was specially dressed for the celebration, and her auburn hair, which was normally tucked up in a bun, cascaded down over her shoulders in thick, opulent waves.
She slowly swirled a glass of red wine, looking across the room at Oren and smiling with sad eyes. “My dear Oren, come and sit with your Noni for a moment,” she called to him over the din. Oren maneuvered his way through the crowded room, smiling and trying not to bump anyone. He sat in a chair beside her. She placed a hand on his. “Sweet child, I can still see the sunrise on your face. Remind me, how many years since you arrived in this world?” Her voice was gentle and soothing.
“Seventeen, Noni,” he answered.
“Ah, eheu fugaces labuntur anni,” she said quietly to herself. Oren was used to her quoting poets and philosophers, but he’d never heard that one before.
“What’s that mean, Noni?”
“It means that I will miss you very much, little sunbeam.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
“Are you…nervous? About the ceremony?” he asked with trepidation. It was strictly forbidden to criticize or question anything to do with Ascension.
“I won’t lie to you child, it is not the easiest idea to adjust oneself to.” She took a sip of wine. “I will be fine, you needn’t worry yourself.” Oren felt her hand twitch.
“I understand,” he said looking down. “I know you have to go, and that it’s supposed to be better…” Oren told himself he was going to be strong, and not cry. “I just wish it wasn’t so soon.”
“You are not alone in that,” she said gently. “Listen, I have something important to tell you.” She leaned forward and beckoned him closer so that no one else would hear. “My time here is limited, little one, and there are some things you should know before I’m gone.” Oren looked up at her expectantly. “Your father is a good man. He controls his own destiny. Most other men believe what they want to, their lives shaped largely by their desires. They condemn what they do not understand, and destroy the reasons for living so that they may live. You must be different, Oren.”
He looked into her blue-green eyes questioningly.
“The coming winds bring small change, but great things come from small beginnings. Other things,” a hint of a smile crossed her lips, “collapse of their own weight.”
Oren furrowed his brow, attempting to decipher the meaning behind her words.
“You are still young, child, and have much to learn of the world. Do not take all you hear at face value, and do not value all you face without careful consideration.”
Oren nodded, “Yes Noni.”
“Good boy,” she said smiling fondly. She cupped his face in her hands. “Above all, remember that no matter how bad things get, you must not despair. We are capable of far more than you could ever imagine.” She looked for a moment at his face, then said, “Now be a good son and help your mother in the kitchen. She has many mouths to feed tonight.”
“Yes Noni,” he repeated, standing up and making his way to the kitchen. He had a lot to think about, and spent much of the night trying to process it all. His chest ached fiercely at the thought of never seeing Noni again. He knew in his head that it was right for this to happen, but his heart was conflicted. He helped to clean up after all the guests had gone home, and when the end of the night finally came, he collapsed onto his bed and fell asleep still wearing his clothes.
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