How many of you have wandered through life and suddenly had that spark of a thought? I know I have on more occasions than I care to recall. Many of them happened in Iraq in 03 and then in 05. But that’s a different story. When I ask that question now I ponder the great mysteries of life. Gods and devils. Angels and demons. While I place no stock in religion, I am brimming with faith. They are two very separate items. Religion is the corrupted creation of man, but faith, faith is that inexplicable emotion felt deep within the soul.
Fascinated by the subject, I decided to create my Sleeping Gods series. While the story arc spans 700 worlds and topples empires of man, the core of the story revolved around the worship of gods and the central question of do we, as sentient beings, need the concept of God in order to continue to exist? I’m not qualified to give that answer, but I hope some of my characters can figure it out for me.
Dreams of Winter begins 3000 years after a civil war among the gods ended in the near destruction of the universe. Since then mankind has evolved to span over 700 worlds. Led by the religious Conclave, the ever watchful Inquisition, and the military arm of the Prekhauten Guard, humanity suddenly finds themselves at the same critical point as their gods three millennia earlier. Only this time there are secrets about to be exposed. Ones capable of shattering all preconceived notions of how the universe works.
Enjoy and read on, my friends. Read on.
3187 A.G. (After Gods)
A single drop of rain fell. Lost quickly amongst the dust and grime of the village street, the raindrop went unnoticed. The culmination of ancient predictions, for it was said that a single drop would alter the course of events set in motion thousands of years ago and either save or damn the universe forever.
Autumn’s bite was crisp this year. Sharp winds blew in from the northern sea, forcing people inside. Whole fields of crops were lost to the pre-winter freeze that gripped the land. It should have been a time for celebration, a time to pay tribute to the gods for their generosity. As winter drew closer, the people prepared for the worst. But not everyone chose to hide in the safety and warmth. Two friends sat on a porch, staring off into the surrounding fields. Light mist clung to the ground, curling up the stairs and around their ankles. Frost kissed the few leaves that had not yet fallen.
“I cannot stay here much longer,” Mollock Bolle whispered.
An angry wind blew his stringy gray hair across his forehead, forcing him to push it aside with a frown. Deep lines creased his face; the bags beneath his eyes were dark and haunted He’d lost much weight over the past year. Sleep did not come easily anymore. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come, though Mollock did not believe in premonition or any such devilry.
Fenrin shook his head. “What are you talking about? You just arrived a few days ago.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Mollock distractedly replied. His dark brown eyes focused on the night. A glint of fear awoke.
The wind howled—the cry of a thousand wolves. Fenrin shivered. His small plot of land on one of the hilltops overlooking the small farming village of Parnus was one of the larger vineyards in the region. Fields of grape vines filled the gentle slope off his back porch. Frost covered those vines now, the first hints of winter. A half-moon hung high in the early night sky, shying behind the stratus clouds.
“Something is going on. Tell me,” Fenrin persisted. “This doesn’t sound like you.”
Mollock eyed his friend. They’d known each other for almost four decades, childhood friends in a way that no amount of time could threaten. This made Mollock all the more uneasy. He didn’t know how to tell Fenrin something he himself couldn’t explain.
“It is a feeling. Perhaps just a dream,” he shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Fenrin narrowed his eyes. His curiosity peaked. “What do you dream of?”
“Do you have nightmares, Fenrin?”
He wasn’t sure he liked the direction of conversation; the menace behind Mollock’s tone. “No, not really.”
Mollock rose and stood at the rail of the porch. His eyes scanned the nearby tree line, watching for things that his mind screamed couldn’t exist. Every shadow haunted him, threatened his life in a special way known only to those who lurked in the dark places of the world.
Fenrin rocked uneasily in his chair. The strained squeak echoed in the empty night. Dried leaves scraped across the porch. “If I didn’t know you better, I would say that you are trying to frighten me, old friend.”
Mollock grimaced. Not even his long years of military service had prepared him for this. “You should be frightened. I am.”
Fenrin’s heart skipped. He felt his mouth water. Hands shaking, he reached into a pouch and drew out a long-stem pipe. He packed in the tobacco and lit it, drawing deep on the soothing smoke.
“Mollock, I never heard you speak like this. We’ve been through wars together. How many times have we stood against the enemy and come out alive?” He exhaled a thick plume of bluish smoke. “None of what you are saying is making any sense. Come back over here and have a seat. I have some wine inside. It will ease your mind some.”
Mollock Bolle smiled softly. “You have been a good friend to me, Fenrin, and I have wronged you. I shouldn’t have come here. I cannot say why, but I feel that every moment I stay here threatens you with danger. I must leave soon.”
“You still haven’t told me why.”
Mollock stared at his friend, his face drawn and severe. “They are coming for me.”
Fenrin’s face paled. He leaned forward. “Who?”
“I don’t know.”
The darkness erupted. A flock of birds fled from the nearby stand of pine trees. Fenrin opened his mouth in shock, the pipe spilling burning embers on the old wooden porch. Mollock spun and drew his sword. His breath came quickly. They watched as a monstrous shadow crashed through the trees, stalking toward the house. There was no subtlety, no stealth. The creature was unafraid.
Mollock fought the urge to piss himself. He closed his eyes tight. Not again. Hunted for years, it was always a different creature trying to kill him. This beast roared; a dreadful wail that withered every tree and plant around it. Its massive bulk easily batted aside trees that had grown for over a hundred years. Their thickness meant nothing to its raw power. His mighty head rose higher than the tallest tree. The air grew rank, fetid. The beast was death, and nothing in the world could withstand its awesome power.
“What in the name of the gods is that?” Fenrin stammered. His words were pregnant with slowly realized fear.
Mollock shook his head in denial. He couldn’t believe he had been found so easily. He quickly regained composure. There would be time enough for chastisement in the future—hopefully. Mollock sheathed his sword. The weapon would be of no use against this beast.
“Get back inside and lock your door,” he hissed at Fenrin. “Douse the lanterns. This thing won’t bother with you once I am gone. It is me it’s after.” His voice was hurried, urgent.
Fenrin rose, hand scrambling for his sword as the beast drew closer.
“Damn it, man, if you ever listened to me, do it now. You cannot fight this. I must run,” Mollock insisted. The harsh tone of his words broke the beast’s grip on Fenrin’s attention. “Gods willing, I will be able to come back and explain what is happening.”
“And if you don’t?” Fenrin asked.
Mollock grimaced. “Then I am dead.”
Gathering up his pack and walking stick, Mollock Bolle moved to the edge of the stairs. He turned and looked back at his friend. There was much to be said, but he had no words for it. Instead, he gave a haphazard smile and said, “Winter.”
Fenrin was confused. “What does that mean?
“You asked me what I dream of. I have dreams of winter.”
And with that, he was gone, just another shadow in the growing darkness. Fenrin thought to call after him, to demand an explanation. The beast in the forest cautioned otherwise. Instead, Fenrin ran inside and bolted the door. Every footstep of the beast shook dust from the rafters and threatened to bring the house down around his head. He hurried to extinguish all of the lanterns and candles, silently thankful he hadn’t yet built a fire. The beast stalked closer. The ground trembled. The air became heavy with the odors of death. Fenrin vomited in his chamber pot. His heart raced. His hands became sweaty.
And then, it, too, was gone. The nightmare creature of shadow evaporated into thin mist. Fenrin struggled to his feet and, on shaky legs, ran outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the terror. Rather than the beast, he saw a wide swath of destruction from the forest through his vineyards. The world had turned to death and decay. Fenrin murmured a quick prayer to Aris, goddess of protection and wisdom, for his friend. He knew Mollock Bolle was a dead man without the help of the gods.