Reaper Of Sorrows (Book 1)

Reaper Of Sorrows

James A. West

CONTENTS

 

Title Page

 

Copyright

 

Acknowledgements

 

CHAPTERS

 

1
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2
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3
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4
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5
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6
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7
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8
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9
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10

 

11
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12
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13
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14
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15
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16
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17
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18
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19
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20

 

21
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22
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23
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24
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25
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26
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27
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28
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29
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30

 

Epilogue

 

Other Books by James A. West

 

Biography

 

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.

 

REAPER OF SORROWS

 

Copyright © 2012 by James A. West

 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

 

Cover art by: James A. West and Julie West

 

Published by James A. West

 

First edition: August 2012

 

Produced in the United States of America

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks to my fantastic editors, Dawn and Carla.
As always, I greatly appreciate anyone who reads my work. I hope you enjoy the Scorpion’s adventures!
To Julie: Your support knows no bounds, and I am eternally grateful.

Chapter 1

G
uttering torches clutched in crude iron claws flared at Lord Sanouk’s arrival, but did little to brighten the small circular chamber spread beneath a vaulted ceiling. Before the flames grew steady and true in their burning, misty figures detached themselves from undying shadows. They danced near, coiled between his legs, their spectral gray fingers caressing him and the bound girl slung over his shoulder. The whisperings of Gathul’s fleshless servants filled his ears, vile utterings to wither a man’s soul. Sanouk steeled his mind and will against those jeering blasphemies. They were nothing in the face of what was to come.

In time silence fell, and the vaporous fiends departed for realms mortal flesh never ventured, seeking livelier sport. Unease stayed with Sanouk, quickening his pulse. Treating with a god was no small matter.

He took a calming breath and grounded the torch that had led him through the twisting warren beneath his fortress, then stepped fully into the sanctum of Gathul. Riding the vault’s walls, the ensconced torches burned brighter still at his advance. Save for the shimmering greenstone altar and the wizened mystic entombed behind a translucent wall of flowing blood, the subterranean room might have been a crypt built for an ancient ruler during the Age of Glory, when gods had shared truths that men had long since forgotten. Whatever the chamber’s original maker intended, by chance or design it had become the gateway to Gathul’s realm.

“Within this mean place,” Sanouk said to the girl, needing to hear a human voice, even if his own, “I will gain the power to build my own kingdom, and regain my stolen honor.”

She flinched at his words, her naked flesh wriggling deliciously against his shoulder. She could not speak for the gag stuffed in her mouth.
What possible answer could she give, even if able?
It was a rancorous thought. Despite sharing his bed, she was like the rest of the villagers, believing he had made a bid for the throne destined for his brother, Prince Nabar. Sanouk was lord and master of Hilan and the northern reaches of his father’s realm of Cerrikoth, but he was also a disavowed outcast, a fallen prince. The respect he garnered from his subjects came only at the threat of punishment.

“For now, my father and brother can keep their decaying throne,” he went on, defending himself against her unspoken accusations, “and I will make my own. Trust that the day will come when my strength will prevail over theirs, and I will take in truth what I was accused of trying to steal.” Before any future ambitions came to fruition, however, Gathul demanded a price.

Lord Sanouk flung Aleena off his shoulder. She struck the stone floor and let out a muffled scream. Clad only in corded bindings that cut into her wrists and ankles, she thrashed and kicked, leaving a serpentine curve in the dust coating the floor.

Sanouk eyed her lolling breasts, marked her flashing doe eyes, and for a moment regretted that Aleena’s sacrifice would deny him further samplings of her nubile flesh. But there were others. Many and more. A grin stretched his thin lips into a bloodless line, and his eyes narrowed in thought. Aleena had a sister a little younger, and her mother, a scullery maid in his own kitchens, was not so old or worn to be without certain charms….

Pushing that aside, Sanouk spun on his heel and eased past the greenstone altar, its oblong top standing waist-high and carved with a depression the length and width of a large man. He dared not look deeply into the altar’s cloudy green depths. He had before, and found strange figures frolicking within. Illusion, he told himself then, a trick of the stone’s properties. He did not truly believe that, but it was easier to think so.

With the alter behind him, he halted before the old man trapped within one of a dozen upright niches hollowed out of the bedrock walls. A hundred wounds over Undai’s body wept the crimson flow that sustained his prison. Undying, he wailed mutely and beat at the barrier, to no avail.

Sanouk could not resist drawing his dagger and slowly raking it across his palm. The keen steel bit deep, severing flesh and tendons. But after the blade passed there was no mark, no wound, no blood. A tingle of excitement crept up his spine at the sure knowledge that as long as Undai remained locked away, no blade could kill him.

“Thank you, Undai,” he breathed, sheathing the dagger. Of course, the aged conjurer could not hear him, nor could he see his captor’s taunting face hanging mere inches away, for Sanouk had dug out the man’s eyes, leaving wide, unhealing sockets.

Sanouk studied the other niches, all empty.
How many times have they been filled and emptied down through the ages?
Undai had found the chamber of Gathul but, drunken fool that he was, he let slip its purpose, and that of the niches, to the wrong pair of ears. In due course, that knowledge had come to Sanouk. After putting Undai to the question, Sanouk discovered the means to gain what he desired but had long since abandoned hope of ever having. And what he wanted was so much more than Undai’s wine-sodden mind had ever conceived for himself.

When Lord Sanouk turned back to Aleena, she went still under his obsidian stare. “You do not die this day,” he assured her, “for your living flesh will serve me.”

Where the night before she had looked on him with tentative, virginal passion, now fear and loathing shone in her gaze. Lust stirred Sanouk’s loins, but he tamped it down. There was no time for dithering.

He moved to the altar and undressed, folding his deep green robes and smallclothes, and setting them aside. Aleena turned her gaze to the floor, as if his nakedness shamed her.
Or, perhaps, her desire leaves her troubled?
He laughed aloud, his voice pounding through the bone-filled labyrinth beyond the chamber. Aleena curled into a weeping ball.

On one end of the altar waited a collection of small jars containing purified sands brought from shores of distant seas. Near these sat assorted vials brimming with fragrant oils. Undai, drunkard or not, had been thorough in gathering the materials required for the cleansing rite.

Lord Sanouk mixed oils together in a filigreed golden bowl, muttering prayers to the dark god he served. Next he slathered the liquid over his skin and gray-shot black hair. He followed this by dusting himself with the various sands, then rubbing the tacky paste over himself until his flesh tingled. Finally, he used a shell-shaped bronze scraper to remove the sticky sludge.

Purified, Sanouk lifted Aleena from the floor and placed her within the depression in the altar’s top. At the first touch of her warmth, soft suckling noises sounded within the chamber, as the verdant stone molded itself to her body. Howling behind the gag, she writhed and bucked in an effort to escape. Ever her eyes sought his, pleading for clemency.

Perhaps I could find another?
But no, he had delayed too long already. A moon’s turning was all the time the god had granted him between sacrifices. The only other conditions were that he should never sacrifice the innocent, or suffer a willing victim. Failing to meet Gathul’s demands would imperil his own soul and, by extension, destroy his plans.

After clearing his mind of all distractions, Sanouk arched his back and spread his arms. Arcane words of summoning flowed from his throat, words given him by Undai, just before he had cut out the sorcerer’s tongue.
“Yaazapa Gathul! El yettairath dakerr! Yaazapa Gathul!”

The incantation filled the chamber with a power far beyond mere spoken words, spread through the catacombs, seeped into the bones of the earth.

“Yaazapa Gathul! El yettairath dakerr! Yaazapa Gathul!”

A stirring cold raised the fine hairs at Sanouk’s neck. The torches brightened from gold to blinding silver, and their leaping flames roared against the curving ceiling like claws of fire. A shadow drawn from the deepest reaches of the underworld oozed into the base of the greenstone altar, obscuring its odd luminosity. The unformed figures trapped within, those Sanouk had tried to deny existed, darted like fish in a pond. As that shifting darkness imbued the stone beneath her, turning its vibrant hue a featureless black, Aleena flailed all the more.

“Yaazapa Gathul! El yettairath dakerr! Yaazapa Gathul!”

The spirit of Gathul flooded over Aleena’s skin, forming a vision of a girl soaked in boiling tar. Her screams cut off as that sludge squeezed around the gag and poured down her throat, yet still she fought.

Sanouk stared, as enthralled as he had been when Undai had lain in Aleena’s place. He could not guess what it was to have the essence of a god envelope your flesh, its soul taste your soul, and neither did he care to find out.

All at once, Aleena went still.

“Yaazapa Gathul! El yettairath dakerr! Yaazapa Gathul!”
Sanouk cried a fourth time, belatedly putting an end to the summoning.

Gathul rose like oiled smoke from Aleena’s flesh. She appeared unscathed, but she stared at nothing, and might have been dead, save that her breasts rose and fell with each shuddering breath.

The god’s nebulous shape swirled and pulsed as it moved before Sanouk and solidified. Even now, at this second summoning, Sanouk’s heart quailed with a terror so deep as to threaten his sanity. The color of old bruises, the god’s warty hide clung to hanging mounds of loose flesh. Six sagging breasts depended from its torso, capped by horn-like protrusions and tufts of wiry black hair, yet its unbound loins declared Gathul to be grossly male.

Sanouk flung himself at the god’s clawed feet. “I have brought another offering, master,” he stammered, his fear bringing him not shame but pride. A lesser man would have soiled himself at the mere description of Gathul, and never would such a man dare speak with the deity.

“Indeed you have, human,” Gathul said, its voice that of a millstone grinding corpses to pulp. Burning red eyes, a score at the least, each sunk into its lumpen face and about its skull, regarded Sanouk. A dribble of reeking muck spilled from the ill-formed rent that served as the god’s mouth. Sanouk jerked back his outstretched arms, lest any of that slaver touch him. “You have leave to make your petition,” Gathul invited, revealing a forest of ragged teeth pitted by corruption.

Bent double, Sanouk scuttled to the altar. He upended a tiny jar, spilling a honey-thick line of resin over Aleena’s hands bound at her waist, then continued to her neck. When finished, he flung the empty jar away with shaking fingers, and retrieved a blazing torch.

Where shock at Gathul’s touch had frozen Aleena, she thawed now. The girl wailed at the raging silver fire descending toward her flesh. Her struggles increased, tearing the delicate skin caught under her bindings.

Sanouk cursed when one of her feet broke free and her legs began scissoring. Gathul’s pestilent flesh rippled with displeasure, and the god made a terrifying
chuffing
noise at Sanouk’s back. The lord tried to hold Aleena down, but she squirmed like an eel, enough to break free of the altar’s sucking grasp.

“Fail to meet your obligations, human,” Gathul warned, “and our covenant is broken.”

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