The Grand Reveal

Remember that post I wrote about first pages a while ago? A lot of you agreed that the first page or even the whole first chapter was a better standard for judgment than just the first line.

So guess what you get to read today?

The first two pages of Demon’s Heart, five full days before the rest of the world gets to see it!

Brace yourselves. Are you ready? Here you go!

***

The distant forest held Rustav’s gaze as forcefully as the hypnotic yellow eyes of a sea serpent. Quiet as the trees might be, sailors insisted that the mountain forest was every bit as deadly as a sea serpent’s iron coils. In spite of Rustav’s best efforts as a skeptic, the sailors’ tales seemed to hover in the air above the ancient trees, growing more insistent with every long, pounding stride Rustav took.

His legs gave out from underneath him, sending him sprawling into the tall grass at the foot of the mountain. Time for a break. Rustav crawled away from where he had fallen, making sure he was well hidden in the grass before lying flat on his stomach with his face in the dirt. As much as it hurt to lie on his bruised ribs, it was worse to lie on his back. Three days of hard travel had done little to help it heal; as soon as anything began to scab over, the motion of running or falling or hiding cracked the wounds open, and more blood seeped into the back of his shirt. If Karstafel could see the state of his clothes . . . but Karstafel wouldn’t ever see him again.

Hovering between sleep and waking, Rustav’s mind drifted back to the taverns at the port of Markuum. The raucous shouts of drunken, land-starved sailors surrounded him, each voice telling a different tale. Alluring sea serpents, ferocious mermaids, rabid pirates—and those were the tamer stories. The tales that stayed with Rustav, that inspired nightmares and set his skin crawling, were the tales of the demons.

The island demons were the loudest, the sailors said, and Rustav was inclined to believe them. His uncle, Karstafel, had dragged him along to the island of Burrihim on the king’s business when Rustav was only nine. All night, Rustav had huddled on the floor of the inn, each distant shriek notching his nerves a little higher. He had nearly ended up being sacrificed to the demons the next day for being too curious. No, Rustav had no doubt that the island demons were a threat.

But while the island demons had a shape, a sound, and a violent disposition, the forest demons were nothing more than a bodiless whisper, a shadow with nothing to cast it, a branch moving without wind. Sure, the sailors still told stories of men disappearing into the forest and never returning, but even the most practiced exaggerators couldn’t make the tales as gruesome as the island sacrifices. The simple truth, Rustav suspected, was that the mountain people had been telling tall tales of demons for ages to scare their children into behaving, and the stories had simply been taken up by the rest of the Courei peninsula as a way to ward off any mainland countries that might try to attack through the mountains.

He’d find out one way or the other soon enough. He had no doubt that Karstafel was already watching every port and scouring the valley for him. The mountains were his only remaining chance of escape. Dragging himself once more to his feet, Rustav rested his eyes on a small village just outside the forest’s edge. He’d stop there and see what he could scrounge; then he would see what awaited him in the trees. Even if there is something in there, Rustav thought as he forced his unwilling feet into a pounding run, it can’t be any worse than the island demons. He had eluded them; he could slip past any forest demons just as well.

He hoped.

***

Are you hooked now? Of course you are! You can click over to ehbates.com for preorder buttons if you haven’t ordered yours yet. Thanks for reading!

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