Please critique my prologue. I hope to release the novel this year. I’m on my third draft. After this draft, I will send it for a developmental edit.
A Story of Rane
By M. Thomas White
Wispy branches swayed in a cold wind. Leaves rustled on the ground, crunching beneath Granian Arturion’s booted feet. The thick canopy of branches overhead blotted out the moonlight, making it hard for him to discern the features of the forest. Locals called it the Whispering Wood. The ghosts of the dead haunted the trees, wandering aimlessly in search of their way home. In the late hours, the wind carried their whispered laments to the ears of the living, but Granian did not fear the dead. The living haunted him too much.
He moved quickly through the ancient trees. Glowing chainmail fit tightly against his torso. His people called the chainmail Harenae, the relic of sand, a remnant of the gods that once walked among men. Ethereal, blue-white light emanated from it, illuminating his path. Normally, a well-worn plate lorica fit over the mail, dimming the glow, but the lorica would have slowed him down. Before entering the forest, he had left the heavy legion lorica with the corpse of his fallen horse.
Granian breathed heavily as he moved. Dirt and sweat matted his stringy black hair to his forehead. His shoulders sagged. His vision struggled to focus in the dim light. He needed to rest, to sleep. The relic could only sustain him for so long. Eventually, his body would refuse to go any further. His organs would start to break down as the energy he drew from the relic fed upon his body’s tissues.
Despite the dull ache that throbbed within him, he continued. He pushed the pain away. Besides Harenae, he carried Caeli, the relic of air. The two Great Relics allowed him to access the Power, a primordial energy that flowed through the natural world. It heightened his reflexes and sharpened his senses. Even as he walked through shadows, exhausted and barely able to see the path in front of him, his green eyes darted from side-to-side, responding to every sound.
A pungent odor hung in the air, one that he had grown accustom to over the past two days. A mix of human and animal body odor. The skin on the back of his neck prickled. Something followed him. It was close. He flexed a hand, letting his fingers stretch as he prepared to grasp the hilt of his sword.
A large, shadowy shape leapt from the trees to Granian’s left. He spun to avoid the attacker, but a glancing blow connected with his shoulder and almost knocked him to the ground. He grimaced but kept moving, spinning to face where the attacker should have landed. Yellow eyes stared back at him from the shadows.
Granian moved faster than any normal man could move. Warmth spread through his body as his fingers wrapped around Caeli’s hilt. He embraced the Power that poured from the relic blade. The pain in his shoulder dulled. The ache within him faded. The fatigue ebbed. He drew the blade from its scabbard. The bright, blue-white glow of the Great Relic chased away the shadows of the night, illuminating the forest around him. Dark blue etchings pulsed along the length of the sword. He focused on the etchings, allowing his mind to clear. He was a lord of Rane, one of the chosen relic-bearers, and he would not be defeated by an ambush. He steeled himself.
Across from him crouched a mix of beast and man. Dark, oily hair covered its body from the tip of its elongated muzzle to the bottom of its clawed feet. Even crouched, it appeared large. Granian knew that it probably stood seven to eight feet tall when fully upright. Hard muscle covered every inch of its body. Claws tipped its hands, and fangs lined its mouth. With those claws and fangs, the beast could kill three grown men in seconds.
The man-mongrel stared at Granian with vicious yellow eyes, its jaws bared and dripping with venomous saliva. One bite from those jaws would break bones and leave behind a slow-killing poison. If its bite failed to kill him, the beast would beat him into the ground until every part of his body shattered.
It was a Lycan. A twisted being born during the Great Mourning. A werewolf, a servant to the dark magics of the Fomorians. For fifteen centuries, his kinsmen had fought against the Lycan. For the better part of a century, Granian, himself, had fought against their endless raids. Small hunting packs regularly traveled across the North Sea to harass the villages on Rane’s Crystalline Coast. A three-Lycan pack could kill dozens of villagers before the Coast’s defenders, the Second Imperial Legion, could respond.
Four days earlier, sailing an armada of unknown ships, thousands of Lycan invaded the Crystalline Coast. The beasts caught Farhaven, the Second Royal Legion’s fortress, completely unprepared. Lycan warriors swarmed the fortress’s walls, butchering everyone in sight. As a relic-bearer, Granian could fight the Lycan better than any squad of legionnaires, but Farhaven was lost before the short battle even began. The Second Legion stood no chance against the onslaught. Without reinforcements from the other legions, the entire Crystalline Coast would fall. The Lycan would butcher the villagers that remained. So instead of fighting, Granian fled in a desperate attempt to warn the legions stationed at the Aramoir, the closet provincial capital and the gateway to Imperial Rane. A normal legionnaire could not outrun the Lycan, but with Caeli and Harenae, he stood a chance at outpacing even the fastest pursuers.
The Lycan followed him. The one he now faced had caught him once already and managed to graze his horse with its teeth. The strong warhorse pushed on for almost a day before succumbing to the creature’s venom. Now, Granian would have a chance to avenge his fallen steed.
Granian knew that the beast could likely sense his determination and desire for revenge. Good. He wanted it know that he intented to kill it. The air shifted slightly as the Lycan’s muscles tensed. Granian breathed deeply to calm his racing heart. He had to be loose, fluid. The Lycan could move faster than any human opponent. He would need to be faster.
The Lycan leapt, jaws open and claws out. Granian barely managed to sidestep. He deflected the beast’s claws, sending sparks flying into the air. The Lycan’s lunge carried it past him, and the centurion followed with a vicious strike. The tip of his blade dug deep into the creature’s thick hide before coming free and splattering the ground with green blood. The hot liquid sizzled in the cold night.
The Lycan howled in pain and jumped back, trying to put distance between it and Granian. It landed hard on all fours. Blood oozed from a deep wound in its side. Granian cursed. If he had hit anything vital, the blood would be shooting, not oozing.
Granian didn’t give the Lycan time to recover. He bounded forward, covering the distance between him and the Lycan in quick, long strides. He swung his sword, his relic-enhanced muscles adding weight to the attack. The Lycan blocked the relic blade with the claws of one hand and swung wide with its free hand, forcing Granian to retreat. It pressed forward, pounding against Granian’s defense.
The ferocious barrage of claws forced pushed Granian further back. He prevented the claws from cutting him, but the Lycan’s superior height gave it the advantage. Granian could not properly brace himself. He had to move or risk getting caught inside the Lycan’s long reach. Even with the relics, he barely moved fast enough. His exhausted muscles refused to move any faster. Desperately, he swung his sword through practiced katas, but he couldn’t break through. The Lycan’s arms were more agile than any sword sequence.
On a burst of inspiration, Granian threw himself forward, inside the beast’s reach. He gritted his teeth, managing not to flinch as claws sunk into the flesh not covered by Harenae. Ignoring the pain, he twisted his wrist and thrust Caeli forward. Power-infused truesilver sank between the Lycan’s ribs, skewering the beast’s heart. The Lycan stumbled and fell forward on the sword, its arms going limp.
Only Granian’s enhanced strength allowed him to stay upright as the Lycan’s full weight sank onto the blade. He turned Caeli towards the ground. The corpse fell from the blade. Granian’s shoulders sagged in relief. He released the Power and all but collapsed in exhaustion.
As the Power left him, Granian became painfully aware of the extent of his wounds. If he did not reach a healer soon, he would die. He closed his eyes and pulled himself together, taking a deep, painful breath. He had to continue. The people on the Crystalline Coast needed him. Rane needed him. Struggling to his feet, he urged his legs forward. One tired step at a time, he moved towards the Aramoir.
He only made it a few yards before the snapping of a branch stopped him. He turned sharply around, his body screaming in protest against the sudden movement. From the shadows of the trees, three hulking shapes stepped into the light cast by his relics. Yellow eyes glowing, fangs dripping, they crouched, ready to strike.
Granian did not scream as he died.