I’m in the middle of writing my next novel, the completion of the short story, ‘The Red Planet Stops by,’ from Aeon of Wonder, and I’m looking to be done with this baby a lot sooner than I’d expected. I’m not certain what to call the genre, nor certain that it requires any such label, but call it something like apocalyptic fantasy, wherein old gods and angels walk the Earth again; an Earth being currently set upon by ruination due to Mars dropping into a lower orbit, far too close to home.
Part One is called, ‘This is War.’ Here is a short excerpt from the book. I hope you enjoy it.
Rex wasn’t at all certain how to respond. After they’d walked a bit further, he asked, “How is that free will, Mac? I’m suddenly suffering due to the fact that I became some kind of peculiar judgment against, what now, ‘Primary Evil?'”
“There are,” Machidiel said, “levels of faith, Rex. Humanity no longer seems to grasp that their notions of egalitarianism do not coincide with reality. Not everyone is, as you might say, cut out, for certain levels of faith. You, I’m sorry to tell you in the short term, are, Rex. But you do not have to accept this level. Are their rewards for accepting such a seismic shift in your view of things? I’ll tell you that there are many, but not as you think. You could not know them now, not in full, no matter how sincerely you desired. Yet the choice remains yours, no one elses. I do not have the choice to deny nor accept such things. I will admit that human free will is quite peculiar to me.”
Rex Cole was silent for a long time.
To Rex, it felt as though they’d been walking for miles. His feet ached and his side burned, throat was parched and his mind felt fuzzy. And then the ground beneath his feet shook. Small rocks began to fall from the high ceiling of the cave. The pillar of fire burned hotter and brighter, lighting up the whole expanse of the huge tunnel they walked through. Things dropped from above, looking to Rex like great bats, but not quite that, and flew away from the light. He wasn’t certain if they shrieked against the light or the Earth shaking.
“What is that?”
“Come,” Machidiel said, “you’ll likely wish to see this, I think.”
Rex followed the giant toward the west wall of the tunnel. The angel’s wings appeared, shielding Rex from the small rocks, falling at enough speed to do damage. Then, Machidiel drew some sort of rune or script figure with his finger. The symbol lit for a moment and then, to Rex’s amazement, he could see through the mountain.
He had to hold himself upright. Above them, something that he’d only seen in movies and his own imagination flew. Black and red scales as large as sheets of plywood covered the beast. Wings that spanned a distance that Rex could neither see nor fathom beat down on the Earth with gale force winds, the destruction so fierce that thunderclouds appeared in their wake, lightning slashing and splitting the sky. As it passed over, the cave rumbled and debris fell from the heights above them.
“Hold steady,” Machidiel said.
But Rex was transfixed. The red dragon was the most incredible thing that he had ever seen, it wasn’t something his mind could completely accept as real. He knew it was there, none of it was a trick. Fire trailed in the dragon’s wake, black clouds and meteors were carried along behind.
Rex wiped his hand across his face, then over his head, through his hair. He blew out a heavy sigh. Tilting his head back, he looked at Machidiel, then back down at the ground. For a long while, he said nothing.
“Well. I, uh. Good thinking on the cave thing, Mac. Yeah.”
The scene outside disappeared and the Earth ceased its shaking, the angel’s wings were, once again, vanished. “Quite something, yes?”
“It was, indeed.”
Rex shook his head. “Far cry from a red suit, horns and a pitchfork.”
“That It is,” Machidiel said.
The two continued their journey, Rex stunned.
After a while, he spoke up again. “Machidiel?”
“Are there any left up there? Any survivors?”
“Many,” the angel said.
“How? The smoke and poison in the air should have killed most of us immediately. The meteors and your older, much crankier brother the rest. And then, well, there’s that thing I just saw–the Devil itself. How is there a single human left anywhere?” Rex had not intended for so much anxiety to be in his voice.
“By His hand.”
“Young man, truer words I could not say than you know not a fraction of the reality. None of you, save so very few, remember. The ways of the universe were once made clear to all of you, there was wisdom in humanity. Yet Man has fallen so many times now, the memories are but dust and antiquity; nothing more than artifacts.”
“I can’t pretend to argue with that, Mac. Still, I’m expected–anyone, really–is expected to believe that the Hand of God is keeping what’s left of humanity alive? That’s a very large request.”
When Machidiel laughed this time, Rex noted that there was very little mirth to be found. It was the laugh of someone who didn’t quite know how to argue a point much clearer. Rex let the silence play out and looked around. He hadn’t noticed that the tunnel had become much smaller, the pillar not nearly so bright yet illuminating everything. He tried not to allow his mind to ponder the things he’d been told about things being loosed. Anger and hatred. It was frightening enough knowing that dragons and beasts and shrapnel from the planet of war beat down on the ground above them.
In a moment’s space of time, Rex saw a black shape fly from out of nowhere. Then Machidiel was gone into the darkness, out of the reach of white light from the pillar of fire that led their way. He heard the sounds of a struggle and then he heard nothing at all but the dripping of water inside the tunnel. Rex had no idea what to do at the moment. The angel had, ironically, calmed the fire in his brain fueled by the apocalyptic nightmare. He had not realized how implicitly he’d come to trust Machidieal in such a short span of time. The feeling of being suddenly alone beneath the Earth began trying to engulf his mind.
Lost in a nightmare of sudden fear, Rex didn’t notice that the pillar of fire began moving forward and away from him. Not until he was standing in nearly pitch black darkness.
“Shit,” he said, and took off into a brisk walk, catching up to the pillar of fire. For reasons unbeknownst to him at the time, Rex spoke to the pillar.
“He’s all right, right?” Rex would have sworn the light brightened for a split second. “Ok,” he said, “lead the way.”
And so Rex Cole followed the pillar of fire deeper into darkness.