As I began researching gritty SF/Fantasy of such writers and Glen Cook’s The Black Company, Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy, Mark Lawrence’s trilogy of Thorns, G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, and, even my friend R. Scott Bakker’s two trilogies which seem to be listed under this appellation of Grimdark Fantasy as well I became fascinated that like my involvement with noir fiction the subgenre of fantasy is part of a more amoral and nihilist worldview, more philosophical and speculative, and above all goes against the grain of the idealisms of the Inkling Christian mythos of redemption and salvation.
So of late I’ve been toying with moving from my current work into this subgenre. Why? It’s fun and my mind needs an opening into the darker corners of dark creativity which pulls together strains of anti-nostalgic and futuristic and post-apocalyptic regressions without doing this blatantly. In some ways I have always loved Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series of tales, and yet he too was lighthearted fluff which was fun to read as a kid and even as an adult but just never touched that dark core of my being like horror, gothic, and the ancient tales of the North.
So been piddling with an opening in a work tentatively bringing threads of sea warfare, quest themes, high and low aspects of a dying culture as it’s impacted by climate change and other unknown forces. Thinking of a far-flung future world during the long dark ages ahead, a recursion to strange mixtures of hybridity of genetic, robotic, and resurgent forms of monstrous life.
An Epic Fantasy in Process:
The Fall of Alûmbrindor
The golden spires of the eight towers hung heavy in the mists as the Alfaqui Autarch, Tigal Bonefist, stood watch high above the fortress city of Alûmbrindor. His fierce black eyes full of bile and a slow burning hatred scanned the western reaches of the Tinarii sea for signs of the Gruzgarian Emissary’s arriving fleet. The Syntarch’s Emissary Druz Imdurl of the Mizrael Order had finally decided it was time to pay a visit to Western Reaches. This was not the first time Tigal had suffered a meeting with such creatures, nor would it be his last.
The breath of the Northern Sovril blew strong across the stone blue waves in the bay, while wisps of white-caps broke over the jetties protecting the trade wharves harbor along the shoals below the city. The white eye of Almirüz – star of ten thousand planets jutted open above the snow mountains to the east blinding him momentarily as he surveyed the coastal regions of the Kingdom of Aeöniis. In the distance he heard the cries of the Cynravi dracu winging their way above the Tamril, whipping their dragonwyr barbs and leathery wings in playful dissonance as the blue sun rose over the crown city of the western dominions of the Empire. Light and shadow broke over the city falling between its shadowed scarlet spires and the glint of gold on filigree that dotted the stonework along their finely inlaid surfaces white Benatali marble. The mists in the bay slowly grew translucent in the light of the rising sun, and in the distance he thought he could just make out the sleek black sails of the Emissary’s sleek ships with their red on black obsidian hulls blasting through the ice shelves beyond the encircling reefs.
Tigal, Commander of the High Council’s guard, studied the city below him thinking about the coming meeting with his ancient enemies. He knew this was more than a ritual pilgrimage to the sea kingdoms by the Syntarch’s Emissary. Word had it that even the Windsayers in their dark tunnels below the streets of Old City were singing the staves of elder oracles, whispered messages of ill-omen from her sewers in the Tamril Synod.
Street urchins who were usually full of laughter and beguiling lies: swindlers, thieves and pick-pockets, all roaming wild through the cities dark districts, were seen no more in the light of day; instead even they had begun hiding among the shadow-claves of the Dead quarter: biding their time, whispering among themselves of the strange omens under the fractured skies of the northern Idruii, where creatures of deadly mien, howling werebeasts moving out of the northern reaches, ghostly wyrwraiths from the abysmal realms of the Gru Malz had been seen flowing south into the wastelands. Even own his Vindari guard had been whispering among themselves of the recent blood moon in the lonely watches of the night casting its dim light upon the darkening waves of the sea at the approach of this meeting between the Dominions. Nothing bode well, but he had been tasked with making sure nothing came to harm either.
His Second in Command, Sylvari Kluges, a man not given to superstition spoke under his breath an old havamal prayer-riddle:
“Winter’s laughter bites hard upon the wings of Death’s Emissary. Hisses and scales spring forth from the Abyss of the Cyndragon Lair. Broken shields twist among the forgotten eyes of dead women: choosers of the slain.”
Shivering at the bite of the Sovril’s icy touch Tigal pulled his cloak tighter round his body, clasping the trefoil clasp upon his left shoulder locking the cloak onto his bodice and armor. Shifting his weight he felt the scars across his brow grow tight with pain; old wounds, old wars. On the battlements below he heard the nightdawn horns of the Vindari Guard as they changed Watches. His mind sharpened in clarity as if triggered by the resonance of the low bellowing horns in the brassy air. His mind phased into a long memory, to the first moment he’d ever seen one of these fabled Serpent Lords for the first time – a Sringarii Ardh in full regalia during the Kar’gaz Wars long ago…
He’d been with his older brother Cedric Bonefist crossing the Deathhollows south of Caer Qin. In the distance the Mistwraith Mountains shone brightly, their peaks sparkling and glittering like the white fire of krisal stones in the afternoon sun. He saw the horned-rimmed flayers dipping and twisting their bright silvery wings above the jagged crags of Mount Zilmora. All around him the stench of dead things rose up from the poisonous swamps, and sulfurous gases broke through steam-vents along the edges of an old Vulcan skull-mound: the green vaporous froth flowing out of its vents swirling and bubbling from hidden recesses deep within its lost caverns. With each step he and his brother took there was a sense of impending doom, a feeling so palpable his skin crawled. There were sand cropped sinkholes that could swallow a man and his horse whole, great Sringazers and Gizzle speeders roaming the mazes of this waste world of watery filth their barbed horns and slit-toothed mouths full of bacterial murder, and the gnarly Gripkins, those laughing scrim-callers and their rope sucking webs that could tear you limb from limb before you even knew what had hit you. Most of all there were Mir-Sirens – wraithkin of the Magroosh Drulz, with their sweet cries and songs that could lure the unsuspecting warrior to an early grave deep in the infested slime worlds of this lost world.
In the distance they both heard the white-gray branches of fallen hollow-bells crack and snap, and the gnarly scrub-oaks surrounded them on all sides seemed to lean in toward them, and there were the spiked darts of slayer grass hugging the mudbreaks and dry cropped sponge-mounds as they weaved their way further and further into the sump marsh toward their prey. They’d been following a Sringarii patrol for days, seeking to discover the whereabouts of the main encampment. After an hour of slugging through this muck, tired and sweaty Cedric stopped, wiped his brow, taking off his helm, his eyes shifting left and right, surveying the thickets and muddy waters; turning his head around his listening for the tale-tell sign of hoofs on the wind, trying to decide whether it was worth the effort, or if their prey had eluded them and was no longer worth the struggle it would take to pursue them further into the mountains.
“I just don’t know,” he said out loud.
Tigal knew better than to ask his brother what he was thinking, but he was tired, thirsty, and disgusted with the way the day had turned out and blurted: “Why did we come this way if you don’t know?”
Cedric turned a cold eye on him: “Why? Why does father send us after impossible creatures? Is that what you’re asking? Of course it is… he wants us dead. That’s it. He thinks we’ll get lost and be eaten by a Stonk.” At that his brother laughed, clasped his helm over his skull and gave his horse a kick, and took off into the swamp like a madman.
Tigil sat there watching his brother slowly vanish into the mists. Now he really was at a loss. What to do? Follow his idiot brother farther into this slimy muck or turn back; either way he felt neither option was the right one. Unlike his brother he wasn’t ready to fall into some bottomless sandpit or become the next meal of a Stonk so began moving toward what appeared to be a clump of island mounds that looked promising a little further to the left of his brother’s last known position.
As he reached the dry clump of peat bog his horse began to whinny and stomp the ground nervously, rearing skittishly and neighing. Tigal reached down and rubbed the stallions neck, calming him, looking around every which way as if an army of Sringarii were about to overrun his position. Realizing nothing was there he decided to get down for a few minutes and grab a snack before continuing to follow his brother. He found a scraggly oak and leaned against it munching on the snap-cakes and apples he’d brought from the Keeps kitchens. He’d loosely tied his horse Finmar to the oak’s dead branches unthinking of any danger around him. He was tired and needed a nap. He leaned back against the tree and shut his eyes, his belly full of tasty fruit and cakes.
Suddenly he woke hearing a screeching sound coming somewhere to his right. Finmar kicked up his front legs and gave a strange disquieting whinny, and just as fast his eyes grew big and he broke away from the branches and streamed off into the swamps leaving Tigal stumbling after him. At another screech Tigal stopped cold. He knew whatever it was, it was just behind him now. As he turned round he stumbled backwards and fell into the mucky water spattering his clothes and his eyes. Rubbing them fiercely he could just make out the blurry visage of a horned rider on some kind of beast he’d never seen before. The rider was hooded except for the singular horn protruding from the crown of his hood, and his face was hidden in a cloaked darkness but for the red gleam of two slit eyes full of a strange fire. The creature he rode reminded Tigal of a Grigorii serpent without wings as he saw its darting tongue flick in and out, and it’s green-black skin was scaly and course. The hooded being pulled a bone horn and lifted it up, piercing the morning air with another of those strange screech’s he’d heard earlier, and in the distance as if echoing his own cries Tigal heard another hornish screech somewhere far off to the south.
The hooded rider grabbed something from the opposite side of his mount; a finely woven meshed net of ilvari metal. Tigal suddenly sensed danger and felt the need to run, but where; how? His horse was long gone, his brother somewhere lost in the swamps farther south. For the first time in his life he felt utterly alone. Abandoned. He stood up and turned, and then he felt the black webbing fold over him knotting him up in a ball and tripping him over. The next thing he felt was being jerked up out of the water and slung across the back of the feathered serpent, his body trapped wrapped in a fine metal mesh; his hands unable to move he squirmed, realizing too late as the meshed web tightened, cutting into his flesh, that he was enslaved. Struggling against the mesh only made it tighten more and it was getting harder and harder for him to breath. He felt everything begin to move in slow motion as his mind went dark.
Tigal awakened in the dark. He tried to sit up but his head hit a wooden beam. He was in a cage somewhere deep in the swamps. He heard rasping whispers and hisses behind him. Turning he saw three cloaked figures sitting round a dying fire, the red embers slowly burning out as another figure walked in and dropped a few logs onto the coals. The fire lit up sparking brightly and for the first time he saw what had earlier been hooded. These were the Sringarii riders whom he and his brother had been wandering these infested marshlands in search of. Their horned beaks and slit eyes shone wild in the light of the fire, and as they laughed he felt they feared nothing in the world.
One of them sensed him and turned, saying something in their strange tongue: “Sidu es Czu bhul din Fasari!” The others turned as well, and another smaller one came from one of the tents to the left and approached him slowly.
The creature leaned down toward him and offered a cup of water, saying, “Drink it, it’s warm broth to keep you alive.”
Tigal realized this was a human woman who spoke to him.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I have no name, don’t ask me anything more. I’m dead to the world.” She turned to go.
“But… wait,” he pleaded.
One of the Sringarii barked at her threatening to slap her if she didn’t move faster. She turned back quickly as she moved away toward the tents: “Do not ask me more, I’ll come after their asleep.”
Cedric stood before his Father – the Emperor, who after hearing the report said nothing. His coal black eyes full of the weight of war said everything that needed saying.
“It wasn’t my fault, Father.” The old man slapped the boy out of his chair and across the stone floor.
“Fool, you had a simple task. Nothing more. And even that you could not accomplish.”
“But… Father,” the boy spoke sullenly. “Tigal took off on his own, what was I to do?”
The old man studied the boy’s eyes: the hesitation, the fear…
“Liar! Get out of my sight. I’m done defending you. You and your mother were always…” the Emperor’s eyes became enraged. “Out of my sight before I kill you myself!” He reached for his sword.
At that the boy whimpered and scrambled crawling backwards across the stone floor toward the door like a winter toad across the Tamiriel.
Cynwulf watched the boy turn over and get to his feet and head out the door. The old Emperor pulled his sword in a rage and flung it toward the boy half in jest, half in earnest. It clanged across the hard stone its point barely missing the boy and sticking in the wooden casing of the door. The boy jumped and fell again, hearing the old emperor’s harsh words in his ears: “By this time tomorrow I want you and your mother gone from Citadel. Forthwith you’re both banished from the kingdom. You’ve crossed me for the last time. If I ever see you are your mother again I’ll kill the both of you myself. Be gone!”
Cedric turned back toward his Liege and Emperor, his father, wanting to protest, but saw in the steel glint of his father’s eyes a darkness he’d never seen or experienced before and knew nothing he could say now or ever would change the old man’s mind. He turned and was gone. Under his breath he swore silently “I will have my revenge, father; someday you will regret this.”
Just a fragment for now as I piddle with the plot, structure, and world-building…