So I have been busy writing notes, plot outlines, and other details of this new fantasy book before diving into actually getting the nitty-gritty of the core writing done. That being said, I couldn’t help myself and started working on the Introduction of the novel. Now, this isn’t the final thing, of course. This is a complete rough draft, not editing at all. Just playing with the ideas and the character of Thistlewart Mink. As of now, the working name of this project is Pillar of Smoke. It will be book one in a series of books. So this is a sneak peek at the Introduction to Pillar of Smoke, by D. Michl Lowe an upcoming fantasy novel.
~ Awakening ~
The clouds rolled out of the vent pipes at the top of the cavern that was Bolster Heart. A great country that resided inside the enormous Pillar, a creation of God from the beginning of time. These clouds happened every morning and throughout the day, and as a result, it rained often. But the clouds did reflect the lights from below, which helped with the general dimness of the place. This morning though, the mist had fallen low to cover the streets and the lantern lights along the paving stones had made a milky light that obscured the view more than enhanced it.
Thistlewart Mink, a stubby little fellow, was shuffling along down the sidewalk towards his job at the Bondwarden Keep, a prison of sorts. He was often teased. His neighbor at the domicile would often flip off Thistlewart’s hat as he passed him in the hall. Thistlewart was not an intelligent, clean, or even likable Flemi and was often looked down upon and made fun of for a myriad of things.
His room at the domicile was a closet-sized hole with barely enough space for a cot and he shared the single sink washroom with about thirty other Flemi, there was no toilet, there was only one of those two blocks away. They were rarely used anyway and only the richest Flemi had them actually where they lived. He had tried to get close to one of his neighbors once, an attractive female Flemi named Nass, but she was quick to laugh at him and make fun of him as well. He had cried himself to sleep that night.
His job, as it was, was mopping up the seepage from the center block of the prison. Every day, he walked the half-a-mile stretch down the boulevard, dodging the other people pushing carts or hauling goods on their backs, to the outskirts of the southeastern edge of Skalholt Prefecture, where many of the down and out Flemi lived.
While it might have been the center of all of Bolster Heart, Skalholt was also the place the poor lived. The good King Pompi had tried to solve homelessness and poverty by providing cheap one-room housing in Skalholt Prefecture, but it had just resulted in a rise in crime and other unfavorable situations. However, while Thistlewart may not have been the smartest Flemi, he was willing to work and although it wasn’t much, he got by.
Muttering to himself, he passed the bakery on the corner and smelled the fresh rolls that the baker had just put out. He had stolen one of those rolls once when the baker’s wife had brought out a pan of them to place out front and left them unguarded for just a moment. He had felt a little guilty about that, but it was honestly one of the best days he had ever had. It was much better than the tough biscuits the breadline gave out. You had to soak them for quite a while before they were even edible. As such, it was soggy on the outside and still rock on the inside, not pleasant. But the roll from Victor’s Bakery was just about the best thing he had ever eaten, even if he had done it in an alley, scared that he would be discovered.
As he came into the temple block, he was taken again by how much it didn’t remind him of an actual prison. There were prisons for the Flemi who committed crimes of course, but this was nothing like those, this looked for all the world like a grand temple, and in reality that’s exactly what it was, but it was also a prison and Flemi referred to it both ways. It was said that this prison held one of the Great Beasts, legendary creatures that came from the time of creation. Of course, Thistlewart didn’t know much about any of that, he was just happy to have a job. It paid for his room and the stops in the breadlines, but not much else. Still, what was a Flemi to do?
As walked through the large iron gates that surrounded the building, one of the trucks nearly ran him over, “Out of the way, you grub!” a man from the cab yelled and Thistlewart jumped to the side. The man wore a ripped tweed ivy cap with his ears bulled back behind it, a common way to get the long ears of a male Flemi out of the way, he spat out the window as the truck moved on through the gate.
Lady Flemi tended to tie their ears back with ribbons or a kerchief. Thistlewart’s ears dangled into his face more often than not, their edges clipped and nicked from the years he had worked in the automobile factory. The machines were always taking bites out of the worker’s ears. He had lost that job when one of them had caught his leg and nearly tore it off. He had recovered, but he wasn’t able to run from machine to machine any longer, so they had let him go.
Bum leg or not, Thistlewart was late today and while the Flemi were typically thought of as punctual, it was just a stereotype. The thought may have come from the fact that the Flemi resembled rabbits, their long fur-covered ears often being long enough to rest on their shoulders and their pronounced whiskered faces were a complete mimic of the animal. But of course, their bodies were much more like a human’s body, only covered in fur.
In literature, rabbits were always thought to carry pocket watches and always be on time, but still. Even as that thought skittered through his mind, Thistlewart looked up at the large inlaid clock on the outside of the main temple prison’s stone-worked facade, 9:09 a.m. He might be a little later than his original thought. Nothing genetically gave them a greater sense of time or reliability. As it was though, he picked up the pace.
“You’re late Wart,” his manager Mr. Ruffle said, as he walked into the little office that held the equipment he would need for the day’s work. He punched in on the time clock. Everyone at work called him Wart. A thistlewart was a relatively common flower on the cliffs of Husavik and his mother loved it, thus his name, but he was resentful of it, always.
“Sorry sir,” he mumbled and walked to the closet in the back room. “I’ll try to be on time tomorrow, this old leg of mine is acting up again. I’ll do better.”
“See that it doesn’t,” Mr. Ruffle grumbled. “I got a whole city full of little pukes just like you that I can fill your spot with. You remember that!”
“Yes sir. I will sir, thank you, sir.”
He grabbed the tunic that he was required to wear over his trousers and button-down, then belted on the little tool belt over it.
“Hey, I’m gonna need you to go into the dome room today and manage the valves in there.” Mr. Ruffle said.
“The dome room? I’ve never been in there sir. That’s usually Calbert’s job.” He said.
“Yeah, well Calbert got canned for messing about and not doing his job. So even though you’re a pitiful excuse for an employee, let’s see how you do with this one. A pretty important job. Just don’t go messing around with the dome itself or staring in at that monstrosity inside, it’ll give you nightmares for sure.”
“No sir, I won’t sir. Thank you, sir. I won’t let you down sir.” He stammered a flush rising in his cheeks.
“Well?” Mr. Ruffle said. “Get to it then!”
He rushed as fast as he could down the hall from the main passage. He took a doorway to the left. He came to a large steel door, that would lead him down to the dome. The door was massive, easily twenty feet tall, and carved all over with images of the Beasts. Mr. Ruffle was right, seeing one of these would give him nightmares for sure. It had to be that large, of course, to get the occupant of the room inside. It would have taken a door that size for sure. He stepped to the side of the door to a smaller one, this one designed specifically for Flemi. Opening this smaller door, he stepped through into the chamber beyond. These places were nearly all the same. Ratcheting the locks and door bolts back was second nature for him by now, the whole temple was full of these types of doors.
He closed the door but pulled out the small lamp he kept on his belt, so he could see somewhat. Walking over to the valves on the side of the room he began cranking the wheel to start the motors running so the dim lights would blink on, then he could see the remaining valves and levers that needed adjusting just above him, the rest of the room remained dark while the system booted up. He stepped on a wet spot on the floor, a common thing. “Dang, the valves must be leaking,” he said to himself. These systems were always springing leaks and needing to be replaced or fixed. He wasn’t sure how long the whole system would last and with Calbert slacking off, who knew what all could be breaking down in this area.
The system had made it this far though, so he suspected it might last another couple thousand years before smarter Flemi than he would have to fully fix the system. He noticed the liquid he had stepped in was black and little boot prints were leading to where he now stood. He adjusted his tunic. Luckily the Beast within this place was one of the sleepers. All of the known Beasts were asleep, but this one was different. While the Flemi didn’t like to say his name, Thistlewart had heard it mentioned several times and of course, had learned it in school when he was a boy.
This sleeper was Dumont, a Beast many said was equal to the leader of the Beasts and arguably the whole world, Ashlynn. She was said to be beautiful, elegant, and kind, while he was said to be dark and supremely cruel. All the beasts save for Ashlynn had been terrible when they were first created, but Ashlynn had tamed them all, save for Dumont, it was said he was untamable and too powerful to bend to Ashlynn’s will. But none of that mattered to Thistlewart, because the Beasts were all asleep and any good or bad, they might represent was locked sleeping away in each of their temples, including Dumont in the one he stood in now.
He twisted a wheel on the wall and it creaked slowly, the hum of the engines within the walls began to give off a sickly-sweet smell that he wasn’t used to smelling. The lights farther in were switching on now as he turned around and he nearly fell back. In the brightness of the now fully lit lamps around the hall, he saw the sleeper’s chamber, a dome the size of a small house, but several of the cords connecting it to the machines within the temple were hanging loose, black fluid dripping from their dangling ends.
He hobbled over to the window of the dome. The metal door was Flemi sized and he wondered how the beast could have gotten into the dome. Even though Mr. Ruffle had warned him not to look in, he stood on his toes to do just that. The sleeper’s chest was still rising and falling as it should have been. Dumont was a great creature indeed, easily the size of a small truck. His long neck was covered in hair, but thick, like quills. His head resembled a horse, but the teeth that jutted from their sides reminded Thistlewart of the pictures he had seen of the animals’ called alligators. His body was covered in a thick short blueish black fir, and his tail again reminded Thistlewart of an alligator, but much longer. He had wings like an eagle that were folded along his back, but they were limp and brushing the floor.
There was more of the black liquid here and it was pooling around the creature. Its wings appeared to be edging into that liquid, staining their bluish tips black as it seeped up into the plumage.
He started for the main door, ready to rush back out to the main hall, to let Mr. Ruffle know about the problem and he thought that the Counsel of Three or even King Pompi would want to know about this, it was serious business! A problem with the dome that kept Dumont sleeping was a big deal. He might even wake up and what would that mean Thistlewart wondered. It wouldn’t be good, that was for sure.
As he was beginning to turn from the dome, a smell of burning metal seemed to waft towards him. It took him by surprise, that he could smell it. In Bolster Heart, that smell was fairly common with all of the machines around, but that is why it surprised him, he was used to it and this was a much more pungent version of that smell.
“Would it not be nice, if your boss was nicer to you?”
The voice was soft-spoken but deep and sonorous.
“Who?” he began. “Who is this? Who’s there?” He looked around the room, but there was no one, no one but himself.
“I can make him nicer to you. I could do even more than that for you. How would you like to run this entire facility? I could do that. I’m willing to. I am a very generous person.”
The voice tickled the back of his mind and he looked around again.
“Seriously, who are you? Where are you?” he asked again, turning in circles now. “Is that you Brontly? Are you playing your tricks again?”
The acrid metal smell then became almost too strong, so much so that he actually covered his nose with his hand and then sneezed. It moved from a burning metal to a blazing fire of magma, just inches from his nose – so strong that he was getting a little dizzy now.
“My dearest Thistlewart, you have lived such a difficult life. You still do. You are disrespected at your work, ignored where you live, and you have not even touched a female in years. You are alone and sad.” The voice was empathetic and kind. This person cared for Thistlewart; he knew that.
“Friend, I know what it is like to be alone. I too have been alone for so long.” The voice said.
Thistlewart felt tears sliding down the fir on his cheeks and he wiped his eyes, he hadn’t even realized he was crying until he had felt them. The sadness of his life was weighing upon him now, but he wasn’t sure why. What had happened? All he knew was that this voice cared about him and loved him. It had always loved him, how had he not known that before?
“I can help you, friend. I can bring you peace and happiness. I just need something from you first. A simple thing. Nothing of consequence at all. Will you do this simple thing for me?” the voice cooed, there was a trail of white smoke slowly curling up out of a place where one of the hoses had been attached to the dome.
Thistlewart walked slowly back towards the window. The dome’s slanting metal sides were glistening with perspiration as if the inside of the dome was cold. He pushed up on his tiptoes and looked again through the little window in the barred door. The beast was still inside, still not moving, but white smoke curled from its nostrils and was slowly filling the top of the chamber within.
“Are you… the one talking to me?” Thistlewart asked, a little scared of the answer he might get.
“I am,” the voice said. “And I am not what you have heard about. Do I sound as if I am evil? Do my words sound as if I am ready to bring about doom and dread?”
The voice was calming, despite the harsh metallic smell in the air. He slid down the door and sat back on his haunches, considering and thinking. It was all so obvious to him now, as it always should have been. He was embarrassed it had taken him this long to realize the truth about this creature. “So, you aren’t evil, like they say?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
“Do I sound evil to you? I want to help you, but I can only do that if you first help me. That is fair, is it not? That I would help you if you first would help me? You wish to be fair, do you not?”
Thistlewart did want to be fair. Wouldn’t that make the world a better place, if everything was fair? He thought.
“I know you have been treated unfairly your whole life. The God so many would pray to does not even provide enough money for you to live on.” The voice was sympathetic.
“You know, I could even heal your leg, and make you whole again. I can make Nass love you if that is something you would want. I can do great things Thistlewart and I am willing to do those great things if you do but one small thing for me… you must release the rest of those cables from this dome.”
Tolden Ruffle came into the heart of the temple after hearing the squeal of ripping metal. Everyone in the building came running in. People would have heard it for miles. He had to push through the throng of Flemi that crowded into the doorway leading to where the dome was located. When he had pushed his way in, he stopped, bent over, and nearly lost his footing. The dome looked like the petals of a flower, peeled back and opened. Inside, it was empty.
The pipes and cables which normally connected to the dome were hanging from their ceiling mounts, the connectors not torn away, but neatly disconnected. The black liquid that had kept Dumont sleeping for as long as anyone could remember was pouring out onto the floor. In the middle of that pool were the ashes of what had been Thistlewart Mink, the small pile soaking into the black and disappearing. Tolden nearly vomited right there. He reached over to steady himself on his friend Monty who had just walked up and stood beside him.
“The fool,” Monty said, shaking his head. “He’s doomed us all, he has.”
Tolden Ruffle merely nodded his head. Doomed us all indeed he thought and tears began cascading down his cheeks.
This has been the Introduction from Pillar of Smoke by D. Michl Lowe. Sign up to get emails alerting you to new blog posts and announcements about new books. As always, your comments and critiques are welcome.
D. Michl Lowe