A Serialized Novel: Sons of the Abyss
Chapter I - Duncan
Angels and demons sometimes take human forms. But whenever Duncan looks in the mirror, he sees the faces of both.
At first glance Duncan is just a plain young man of a very young age. Though not exactly tall, he appears taller due to his stiff militaristic stance. His skin is sallow and his eyes are dark brown, like the depths of empty tunnels.
Duncan is known to be very quiet. Not much is known about his private life and he goes to a certain length to keep it a secret. Yet no one knows that beyond the meek face, a very different Duncan lurks. Angels and demons do take human forms, and in Duncan’s case he had the qualities of both.
During one clear September midnight, Duncan is not at home but in this queer looking room in an undisclosed location. There is a hassock in the middle facing a plain stone stoup, or Holy Water font where Duncan kneels down to whisper a prayer. The roof is domed and the walls are elaborately carved, giving it a resemblance to a Gothic Baptistery. And adorning the walls are series of stained glass windows where coloured lights flows, illuminating the many statues of Saints guarding the place. It’s already midnight yet daylight seems to pour out from these windows. Stranger still, there are mysterious balls of light drifting around the whole room like live fairy lights. These Light Orbs act as illuminations, further giving the room its mystique.
After a few minutes of silence, Duncan begins the Cleansing Rites. With eyes remaining closed he washes his face, hands and feet with the water from the stoup while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Curiously Holy Water once left him sickened, burned and disfigured. Now Holy Water is his source of true strength, a strength that makes him more human.
“Open,” Duncan said deep in his mind. As if responding to his call, a passageway at the opposite end of the room opens. With the Light Orbs leading the way, he proceeds to the passageway and enters a smaller chamber cluttered with treasure boxes the size of desks. The main centrepiece is a cruel looking sheathed sword displayed on a finely crafted stand. This weapon is not a bejewelled toy portrayed in films and playbooks. This is a serious killing tool that had seen many bloodsheds and deaths. It had a robust short blade with spikes for cross-guards and a fluke weight for a hilt.
“Come to me,” Duncan whispered while doing a low prostrate. The nearest treasure chest opens and Duncan is engulfed in a cloud of dark smoke. Once the smoke clears, a very different Duncan emerges.
Where he once was now stands a spectral figure clad in black; light armour harder than dragon skin cover his forearms, chest and shins. Half of his face is covered with a velvety mask. Only the fierce blazing yellow eyes are visible and his overall image is hard to spot in the darkness. His hair is completely white, like the fur of a wolf and sharp talons protrude from his long fingers.
Before leaving the chamber, the now transformed Duncan calls out for his sword. Quickly recognizing its master, it flew from the stand and slings itself to Duncan’s belt. A blink of an eye later and he vanishes. When he reappears Duncan is in a different form of environment.
Gone is the serene confines of the chamber and the view is replaced by a wilderness of tall grotesque trees and thick vegetation. Duncan is in a different world, a parallel universe where the surroundings bear the oddest of shapes; the trees around will remind you of petrified humanoid giants. There are animals out there like terrible horned wolves, winged deer and birds of prey the size of airplanes. The sky is dominated by mountains floating around like miniature planets.
And from the darkness, six men emerge to join him. They wear the same black garb and armour except for their Leader who is draped in pelt cloak. Another one arrived, a figure in glistening mail under a monk’s habit. He is a priest, as what the white cross on his tunic indicates. His hood is kept down but his face is concealed behind a closed helm.
“Seven Bloodlines of Adam, Seven Children of Eve, be ready,” the Priest announced as everyone, including Duncan groups around him. They all fell on their knees, as a sign of submission to authority. The Priest then raises a large silver crucifix set on a jewel encrusted shaft. This contains a precious relic; the fragment of the True Cross where Christ was crucified.
“Your attention,” their Leader of the Seven said, as the cloud above opens like a form of a celestial door. Out came three human-like beings, which make a quiet descend beside the Priest. They are Angels. Unlike the Seven who presents dark, imposing and menacing images, the Angels will bring in a different impression. They will inspire fear, but the fear that rouses awe and wonder, not terror and repulse. Stronger than the noontime sun is the warmth their presence brings. Poised for battle they might be but they thrived in the joy of peace, not in the exultation of violence.
“Bloodlines of Adam, Children of Eve,” The one standing in the middle, the Archangel greeted them, “tainted your souls might be but the Grace of Heaven is bestowed upon you. By this hour show the world your mettle. The power meant to enslave you will be the instrument of salvation. Terror will be brought upon to the hearts of your adversaries, but heavenly justice will be imposed. Spread your wings and be swift, secretive and fierce, yet merciful to the helpless. In the Name of the Heavenly Father, by the Power of His Son and through the guidance of the Holy Ghost, fly now into Peril!”
As the traditional sign of willingness and preparedness to battle, the Leader of the Seven presents his pelt cloak to the Archangel. At the back of his cloak is a standard of a winged cross standing on a skull, a representation of the triumph of life over death. This is the symbol of the brotherhood Duncan and the rest are serving in secret; The Poor Fellows of Christ of the Order of the Black Wings. Quickly and silently, the Seven vanish into the wilderness. Their destination is in the very heart of the forest, the realm of the wild where the animals makes their kingdom. Nevertheless it had recently served a different purpose.
In the place behind curtains of vegetation lurk fifty men draped in ragged cloaks. They may appear as wandering vagabonds seeking refuge in the forest, but behind the disguises are warriors poised to fight. Underneath their tattered clothing are long oversized swords as long as a man is tall. Others carry cross-bows like devices together with a number of knives and poisoned darts in their belts. But aside from blades and bows, they are also armed with something more potent.
Normally people will regard magic as something from children’s fairy tales or stuffs of stage acts. This is not the case for these men. Magic is a very real thing for them, a trait born with. Yet they don’t practice magic to entertain. This is their most devastating weapon, more effective than all the man-made implements in their disposal. They have the power to summon fire, command the earth or control water to rain untold mischiefs on their enemies. Death is brought upon with unimaginable efficiency while invisibility is achieved by manipulating light and illusion.
These are just few of what they could do, and in cases where magic is inapplicable the men will resort to the Iron Beasts. Monstrous is the only thing that could describe it, a fifty foot behemoth that magic cannot stop. The Iron Beasts are gigantic winged suits of armour controlled by a specialized enchantment. Depending on the needs, the human operator could magically merge himself with his machine, or be controlled at a distance. Its thick armour could deflect many forms of curses and an advanced form of sorcery is required to disable it. The men are equipped with thirty of them, all enchanted to be rendered invisible.
“It’s time,” said one of them, and several curious characters emerge from their hiding places in the bushes. They are neither men nor beasts, they are Earth Demons.
In this world unclean spirits are known to assume mortal bodies. Earth Demons may appear as badly deformed creatures with a mix of animal parts. In terms of magical skills, they are no different than a normal human practitioner due to the effects of their earthly flesh. They have great physical strength, with one arm able to match the pull of an ox. They could also open the pathway to another World, a skill that requires good knowledge of time and space.
To show that the Demons meant no harm, they all relinquish their weapons. The men too uncloaked themselves as an honourable gesture.
“One hundred souls if you open the pathway to another world for us,” said the largest and the meanest of the Fifty, their Captain.
“As what we agreed upon,” one of the Demons replied.
“You will receive your sacrifice once we get to our destination.”
“So, you want to visit the World of Men.”
“Yes, nothing will stop us in that non magical World.”
The Captain of the Fifty Vagrants turned east, towards the direction of the village they once occupied.
"We heard you and your men are feared in this world," the demon said as the Captain of the Fifty thrusts his sword to the ground.
"We are, and my sword had spilled a lot of blood."
And he recounts with great relish how they will battle armies, loot villages and murder those who resisted.
"But we failed in our last raid and we are driven off into this forest," he added, his face contorted with rage.
"And that's why you want to escape to another World,, you and your men are on the run."
"It's only a matter of time until we are caught, and we will exact our revenge once we establish our kingdom in the World of Men."
He then boasted loudly how he would double the human sacrifices and offer them slaves. And from nowhere, a twin blast rips across their camp, sending the men and demons into confusion. Hidden in the bushes the Seven silently watches, waiting for the right moment to attack. Then a type of fire known as the Black Flame erupts from the ground. This no ordinary fire; it gives off darkness rather than light and warmth. This is a cursed flame capable of consuming Demons. Already half of the Earth Demons was annihilated while the blasts had crippled most of the Iron Beasts. Only three are operable and the surviving men scramble to get their remaining machines airborne. Through a specialized enchantment, they merge themselves with their Iron Beasts. A blast of wind sweeps the place as it comes to life, and in a single wing beat the Iron Beasts are airborne.
This had been a crucial mistake for the men.
They have discovered that up in the sky the ground is barely visible due to the fumes being given off by the Black Flame. Whenever they try to land, the Black Flame magically explodes to block their paths. This left the others in the ground unprotected. With the men disorganized the Seven makes their move. They split up, sending two of their ranks to hide among the tree tops as the rest deals with the men on the ground. The ferocity the Seven displays are unbelievable, charging with incredible speed and stealth. Invisible hands seem to grasp from nowhere as scores upon scores went down men and demons altogether. Fiercely the men fought with everything they had; swords bows and Magic. The night sky comes alive with murderous roars, death shrieks, and spells shooting blindly at their unseen target. Others conjure spells meant to expose a concealed enemy. In an attempt to protect themselves the men and Demons had grouped together into this tightly packed defensive formation.
This is the opportunity the Seven had been waiting.
A signal in a form of a blue flare is given by the Leader of the Seven. Upon seeing the streak of light, his two members hiding among the trees came leaping out. They shed their human forms, transforming into two gigantic beings more terrible than Iron Beasts. One is red in colour, with spiky armour and wings, and carries a fiery sword. The other is steely blue; more heavily armoured and armed with a pair of blazing clubs. They engage the three Iron Beasts who are still attempting to penetrate the grasping wall of Black Flame, and are disposed of at once. The wreckage of these feared weapons falls limply, and exactly where the remnants of the men and demons stood in defence.
The Seven are quick to evade the rain of metals that got their enemies completely off guard. The men and demons are crushed by burning debris the size of houses. Some have escaped, only to face the full wrath of the charging Seven. One of them is their Captain, who is now in a duel against Duncan. His sword sings to avenge the loss of his men, while his left hand conjures the deadliest of spells. The fall of the leaves, the clouds in the sky, the wind blow all goes into standstill when one of his enchantments made to stop time takes effect. But Duncan and his kind are immortal beings cursed by time, the spell no longer affects them. And with a single slash from Duncan’s sword, he is dead. The men are about to follow their captain’s fate and their resistance is crushed.
In the relative calm that follows what is left is a ground strewn with the aftermath of the fight. Broken weapons litter the surroundings mingling with the smouldering remains of the Iron Beasts. There are also mangled corpses of Earth Demons everywhere all in a horrendous condition with some missing a body part. Later on their carcasses will simply vanish for the earth will never accept an unclean flesh. The spirits of the Earth Demons will then be condemned to wander until they are captured by patrolling Angels.
As for the fifty men, amazingly most of them survived despite of the severe beatings they endured. The Seven had chosen to spare their worthless lives for they are human after all, born from the image of God. They must live to face the punishments of their crime. Their captain wasn’t that fortunate. He’s a real threat and the Seven are given orders to eliminate him. Anyone stumbling upon this man must be ready to deliver the killing blow. It was Duncan who is unfortunate enough to carry out the grim task.
The Seven had their captives tied with a cursed chain to suppress their magic and one at a time they are being surveyed. The Leader of the Seven raises his staff to put the men under a powerful enchantment; through his will they are reduced to something no larger than an ant. They are sealed in a small glass bottle, and a trained bird of prey will deliver them to their place of imprisonment. The shrouded body of their Captain will be turned over to a local church for a proper burial by a pack of hounds. Duncan remains transfixed as the person he killed is carried away into the darkness. Behind the cold face concealed by a mask a decision was made and he quickly approaches his Captain to whisper something.
“Sir, can I have a word with you?” He asked.
Seeing on the way he avoids being overheard by others indicates this is a personal matter.
“What is it child,” his Captain replied.
“This is to request a private audience with you Sir, this Sunday.”
“A meeting, what is your concern then?”
At first Duncan hesitated, but after gathering his nerves he proceeds.
“I will just inform you Sir on the day of our meeting. This is just personal,” he said awkwardly.
His Captain then gave Duncan a penetrating look, a gaze that gives this impression that he could see through thoughts.
“I understand, so it will be on Sunday then.”
“Yes Sir, Sunday morning.”
“Velruthiel must be informed so she could pick you up. I will just be seeing you there.”
“Thank you Sir,” Duncan said then.
A few minutes later, Duncan, and all the members of the Seven are gone. Gone too are traces of the brief yet violent encounter. The forest now returns to its slumber.