Preview: The Children of Never

Where do I begin with this one? Based on a short story that won me an award from the Writer’s of the Future Contest, I dove into a fantasy world filled with strange creatures I’ve never done before. At the heart of the story is a mysterious enemy stealing children and a pair of war priests determined to solve the mystery and save the lands.



Mist hovered over the near empty fields. Stands of cedar and black pine broke the monotony of what many considered the endless boredom of the grass plains. Pastures and farmlands stretched as far as a man might walk in a day and beyond. Folks here kept to themselves and preferred others to do the same.

Spring was just beginning, and the early bloom of wildflowers peppered the ground beneath the roiling mists. Tombstones and other crude burial markers filled the small field outside of the village of Fent. Generations were buried within the field’s confines, though modernity demanded fresh bodies be burned atop a pyre so that their ashes might get to the next realm quicker than the slow rot the earth offered.

Still, the old ways, however antiquated, remained strong in many of the older generations still toiling. Their reward, that final rest, had yet to come, leaving them in the unenviable position of becoming the stewards of what once was. A gloomy task on the best of days. Not all the dead were given the flame. Many continued to be thrown into the long, cold sleep of the ground.

Dawn was breaking, the first thin tendrils of pale light stretched across the darkened skies. Roosters crowed. Farmers rose and readied for the long day. Had any been in the fields, they might have caught a glimpse of an old man, crooked and dressed in faded grey robes, stalking down the dirt road leading to the cemetery. He carried a small lantern that swung with every step. The Grey Wanderer some named him. Others simply chose a more apt name: The Soul Stealer.

Smiling as he went, the Grey Wanderer sniffed the air for the scent of those freshly dead. Some whispered he was once a king of men. Others suggested he had been a sorcerer of great power who’d made a deal with fell powers. Most didn’t care; they avoided all mention of him. Wherever the Grey Wanderer went, bad things followed.

He paused at the cemetery gates and raised his lantern high. A wash of light fell over the tombstones, showing him what he’d come to find. Fresh earth cast over the recently deceased. His smile was thin and insidious. The Grey Wanderer began to whistle. It was a ghastly sound, unfit for mortal ears. A cry to the ones in the deep beyond whose very existence threatened the sanity of the masses.

Once he finished his task, the Grey Wanderer lowered his lantern and continued walking. He avoided passing through the sleepy village, choosing instead to disappear back into the mists of time and space. His work here was finished.

The ground shook at his passing. Fresh dirt slipped from the top of the mound. The tombstone, carelessly erected, toppled and broke. Hands, withered and clawed, punched free from their eternal tomb. They reached and dug, frantic to free their body. Rock and dirt cascaded away from the naked body as the once dead man pulled his head and arms from the ground.

Shoulder length hair the color of midnight had fallen over his face. Bits of wood and dirt fell away from his flesh. The once dead man held up his hands and blinked the grime away from his eyes. His flesh was riddled with damage where the worms and underground rodents had already begun their feasts. Bone glinted from numerous places in the fading dark. He stared at what he had become and cast his head back, uttering a primal scream.

Frantic, the once dead man shoved armfuls of dirt away, desperate to be free of his prison. His chest was covered in hair matted to his flesh. A red and black snake dropped from beneath his armpit. The once dead man worked furiously before being rewarded. He crawled and climbed free and collapsed beside the pieces of his tombstone. Memory lost, the once dead man peered to make out the name engraved upon the stone. Brogon Lord.

He had once been a man named Brogon Lord. That name, and the life associated with it, no longer held meaning, for he had died. This mockery of reanimated flesh was a far cry from the warmth of life. The panic subsided, and the once dead man began to think. Images born of random thoughts filled his mind. He watched events play out, an entire age born and died in a heartbeat. The once dead man knew what must be done. Who he once was no longer mattered. He once again had purpose. 

Far off on the dying night, he heard whistling.

Barin and Covis ran through the back alleys. The two boys were determined not to be caught by the third of their group. Slipping between the lengthy strides of grumbling adults, they hurried away in an attempt at hiding that would ultimately end in failure. Fent wasn’t an overly large village, often being confused by the duchy it was named for, and there were only so many prime hiding spots where one might feasibly be able to avoid detection.

Covis burst into laughs as he dashed beneath a stationary horse and kept running. Crates of fruit and vegetables lined the wall to his right.

“Stop laughing, Covis! That wasn’t funny,” Barin scolded as he took the extra effort of going around the horse.

Undaunted, the younger Covis kept running. He hadn’t been discovered the last three times the boys on his street played. It was an claim of great pride for the young boy. No one had ever won four times consecutively. He kept running, knowing having Barin clinging to him would only hurt his odds. Covis liked Barin, but the thought of winning was all that was on his mind at this moment.

He ducked down a narrow side alley, barely three feet between buildings, and hid behind a pile of old garbage. The stench was raw, overpowering. Covis plugged his nose and mouth and tried not to throw up. Through watery eyes, he saw Barin rush past without looking. Covis broke into a wide grin and turned to continue down the alley.

A crow cawed from the nearest rooftop, startling the boy. Covis slowed, suddenly unnerved. Cold spread through the alley. He shivered as his flesh prickled. Worried, Covis decided to abandon his game. Let one of the others win. He was already a legend. There’d be other times to defend his title. Right now, he only wanted to go home to the safety of his mother’s arms while the bad sensations faded into memory.

He was halfway down the alley when what he thought was a pile of trash rose and blocked the way. Covis skidded to a halt. His muscles refused to work, rebelling against the screams from his mind to turn and flee. Waves of energy funneled off the man, for what else could it be? Covis squinted and was rewarded with identifying a pair of eyes the color of ice glaring at him from behind a mask of coal black hair. An arm rose. Maggots dripped from the desiccated flesh. Covis gagged. A hand stretched forth to clasp around his throat. Covis knew only darkness.

Realizing he had wandered too far, Barin decided to turn back and head for more familiar parts of the village. Concerned for himself, it took the boy close to an hour before he remembered Covis. They couldn’t both be lost. Could they?

“Covis! Where are you? I want to go home,” he called.

The squeak in his voice echoed up and down the brick walls towering over him. Barin began to worry. It wasn’t like any of the boys to disappear in the middle of their game for any longer than was necessary to win. He knew Covis was a master at this and wondered if his friend was secretly watching from the shadows.

“This isn’t funny! Come out, Covis. The game is over,” he called, a touch of anger lining his voice.

Random voices from the main avenue drowned out any other noise. Frustrated, Barin balled his fists and rounded the last alley. Shadows half-filled the passage, but he was able to make out small piles of old garbage and what looked like a boot. Barin swallowed his rising fear. The boot belonged to Covis.

“Covis?” he called.

He crept forward. There was no reason he could figure out that Covis would leave one of his boots. Close enough to touch it, Barin bent down. His eyes followed what looked like scuff marks dug into the dirt and stopped on three specks of a dark liquid. Blood. Alone and suddenly afraid, Barin backed out of the alley and ran for home.

Late spring nights were always cool to Lizette. A mother to a well-loved daughter, she stood on her porch with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders as she gazed at the stars. There was majesty up there. Another realm of possibility very few understood. She often wondered if those pinpricks of light were more than just that. Was there more in the night sky? A rumor circulated the lands, no doubt spread by the Collegium in the city of Beacon far to the west. Yet another place she’d only heard of.

Lizette had never left the duchy of Fent. In fact, she’d hardly been beyond the edges of the village of Fent. Twenty-seven long, hard years spent toiling away, first as a seamstress and now adding the duties of a mother. Life wasn’t kind to people like her. People the nobility ignored and the powerful dominated. She often wondered who would notice if she was no longer around. Pointless to think about that, Lizette knew she was going nowhere until her daughter was a grown woman and on her own.

A smile warming her face at the thought of her daughter, Lizette turned from the stars and went to check on Tabith. She reminded her of her late husband. Her smile dimmed a bit. She walked softly through the quiet, dark house, stopping by the fireplace to swing the teapot over the flames. A mug of hot tea was the perfect remedy for the cool spring night.

Their cottage was meager by every consideration, but it boasted having three rooms. Few families enjoyed the luxury of having separate bedrooms for their children. Lizette made it a point of pride among her friends. The living room flowed into a small kitchen. They had an outhouse in the back yard, complete with wash basin. She kept it as clean as possible, no small feat, all things considered. Tabith did her best to ensure her mother had work every time she came home from her actual paying job on Merchant Row.

Lizette listened to the flames cackle, relishing the sound of what she attributed to peace, before going to check on Tabith. She took only two steps before jerking to a stop. It is said that mothers were more in tune with their surroundings when children entered their lives. Lizette knew every crevice and shadowed corner of their home, from the busted shutter on the kitchen window that slammed into the wall every time the wind gusted, to the creaking board three steps in from the front door. She also knew that Tabith was adamant about closing her door each and every night. A door that was now cracked an inch open.

Crossing swiftly, Lizette reached for the wooden knob and pushed. The door swung open slowly, allowing darkness to creep out. A niggling sensation crawled over her flesh. Lizette closed her eyes and took a deep, steadying breath. Her mind tried to rationalize her unease, that her worry was a figment of an overactive imagination born from the whispers of missing children around town.

Peasants were always starting baseless rumors when the need to alleviate boredom arose. Lizette paid no mind to any of that, until now. Heart hammering, she entered Tabith’s room and crossed to the edge of the bed, whispering her daughter’s name. She reached down and felt… nothing. The bed was empty. Tabith was gone.

Lizette’s screams were heard across the whole village of Fent.

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