Dreams of Winter
A Forgotten Gods Tale Book 1
by Christian Warren Freed
Senior Inquisitor Tolde Breed is sent to the planet Crimeat to investigate the escape of one of the most deadly beings in the universe. Amongeratix, one of the three sons of the god-king is loose once again, the fabled Three. Tolde arrives on a world where heresy breeds insurrection and war is only a matter of time. Tolde is aided by Sister Abigail of the Order of Blood Witches in his quest to find Amongeratix and return him to Conclave custody before he can begin his reign of terror.
What he doesn’t know is that the Three are already operating on Crimeat. Each serves a different emotion: Vengeance, Sorrow and Redemption. Their touch drives the various characters beyond themselves and towards an uncertain future that can only end one of two ways. Either the Three win and finally destroy the gods, or humanity stops them and continues to survive.
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Autumn’s bite was crisp this year. Sharp winds blew in from the northern sea, forcing people inside. Whole fields of crops were lost to the pre-winter freeze that gripped the land. It should have been a time for celebration, a time to pay tribute to the gods for their generosity bestowed. As winter drew closer the people prepared for the worst. Not everyone chose to hide in the safety and warmth. Two friends sat on a porch, staring off into the surrounding fields. Light mist clung to ground, curling up the porch and around their ankles. Frost kissed the few leaves that had not yet fallen.
“I cannot stay here much longer,” Mollock Bolle whispered.
An angry wind blew his stringy gray hair across his face, forcing him to push it aside with a frown. Deep lines creased his face; the bags beneath his eyes were dark and haunting. He’d lost much weight over the past year. Sleep did not come easily anymore. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come, though Mollock did not believe in premonition or any such devilry.
Fenrin shook his head. “What are you talking about? You just arrived a few days ago.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Mollock distractedly replied. His dark brown eyes focused on the night. A glint of fear danced around the corners of his eyes.
The wind howled; the cry of a thousand wolves. Fenrin shivered. His small plot of land on one of the surrounding hilltops overlooking the small farming village of Parnus was one of the larger vineyards in the region. Fields of grape vines filled the gentle slope off his back porch. Frost covered those vines now, frost and the first hints of winter. A half-moon hung high in the early night sky, shying behind the stratus clouds.
“Something is going on, tell me,” Fenrin persisted. “This doesn’t sound like you.”
Mollock eyed his friend. They’d known each other for almost four decades; childhood friends in a way that no amount of time could threaten. This made Mollock more uneasy. He didn’t know how to tell Fenrin something he himself couldn’t explain.
“It is a feeling. Perhaps just a dream,” he shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Fenrin narrowed his eyes. His curiosity peaked. “What do you dream of?”
“Do you have nightmares, Fenrin?”
He wasn’t sure he liked the direction of conversation; the menace behind Mollock’s tone. “No, not really.” Mollock rose and went and stood at the rail of the porch. His eyes scanned the nearby tree line, watching for things that his mind screamed couldn’t exist. Every shadow haunted him, threatened his life in a special way known only to the lords of darkness.
Fenrin rocked uneasily in his chair. The strained squeak echoed in the empty night. Dried leaves scrapped across the porch.
“If I didn’t know you better I would say that you are starting to frighten me, old friend.”
Mollock grimaced. Not even his long years of military service prepared him for this. “You should be frightened. I am.”
His heart skipped. Fenrin felt his mouth water. Hands shaking, he reached into a pouch and drew out a long stem pipe. He packed in the tobacco and lit it, drawing deep on the soothing smoke. Fenrin wasn’t scared. If anything he was confused.
“Mollock, I never heard you speak like this. We’ve been through wars together. How many times have we stood against the enemy and come out alive?” He exhaled a thick plume of bluish smoke. “None of what you are saying is making any sense. Come back over here and have a seat. I have some wine inside. It will ease your mind some.”
Mollock Bolle smiled softly. “You have been a good friend to me, Fenrin and I have wronged you. I shouldn’t have come here. I cannot say why, but I feel that every moment I stay here threatens you with danger. I must leave soon.”
“You still haven’t told me why.”
Mollock stared at his friend, his face drawn and severe. “They are coming for me.”
Fenrin’s face paled. He leaned forward. “Who?”
“I don’t know.”
The darkness erupted. A flock of birds fled from the nearby stand of pine trees. Fenrin opened his mouth in shock, the pipe spilling embers on the old wooden porch. Mollock spun and drew his sword. His breath came quickly. They watched as a monstrous shadow crashed through the trees, coming closer to the house. There was no subtlety, no stealth. The creature was unafraid.
Mollock fought the urge to piss on himself. He closed his eyes tight. Not again. The beast roared; a dreadful wail that withered every tree and plant around it. Its massive bulk easily batted aside trees that had grown for over a hundred years. Their thickness meant nothing to the raw power exhibited. His mighty head rose higher than the tallest tree. The air grew rank, fetid. The beast was death, and nothing on the face of the world could withstand its awesome power.
“What in the name of the gods is that?” Fenrin stammered. His words were pregnant with slowly realized fear.
Mollock shook his head in denial. He couldn’t believe he had been found so easily. He quickly regained composure. There would be time enough for chastisement in the future, hopefully. Mollock sheathed his sword. The weapon would be of no use against a creature of shadow.
“Get back inside and lock your door. Douse the lanterns. This thing won’t bother with you once I am gone. It is me it’s after.” His voice was hurried, urgent. Fenrin rose, hand scrambling for his sword as the beast drew closer.
“Damn it man, if you ever listened to me do it now. You cannot fight this. I must run,” Mollock insisted. The harsh tone of his words broke the beast’s grip on Fenrin. “Gods willing, I will be able to come back and explain what is happening.”
“And if you don’t?” Fenrin asked.
Mollock grimaced. “Then I am dead.”
Gathering up his back and walking stick, Mollock Bolle moved to the edge of the stairs. He turned and looked back at his friend. There was much to be said, but he had not the words for it. Instead he gave a haphazard smile and said, “Winter.”
Fenrin was confused. “What does that mean?
“You asked me what I dream of. I have dreams of winter.”
And with that he was gone, just another shadow in the growing darkness. Fenrin thought to call after him, to demand an explanation. The beast in the forest cautioned otherwise. Instead Fenrin ran inside and bolted the door. Every footstep of the beast shook dust from the rafters and threatened to bring the house down around his head. He hurried to extinguish all the lanterns and candles, silently thankful he hadn’t built a fire yet. The beast stalked closer. The ground trembled. The air became fetid and rank with the odors of death. Fenrin vomited in his chamber pot. His heart raced. His hands became sweaty.
And then it too was gone. The nightmare creature of shadow was gone. Fenrin struggled to his feet and, on shaky legs, ran outside hoping to catch a glimpse of the terror. Rather than finding the beast he saw a wide swath of destruction from the forest through his vine yards. The world had turned to death and decay. Fenrin murmured a quick prayer to Aris, goddess of protection and wisdom, for his friend. He knew Mollock Bolle was a dead man without the help of the gods.
The Bloody Man arrived at night. Twice the size of a mortal man, he didn’t move, didn’t even blink. The villagers of Kovlchen were both frightened and amazed. No one had ever seen anything like this before. Prayers were whispered, blades sharpened. The man was heavily muscled, sculpted almost, and completely covered in dark crimson blood. Arms at his sides, he stared out at the world with empty eyes. Villagers flocked to see the Bloody Man, if such a being might be called a man. Those daring enough moved closer, eager to get a better look. Mothers hurried their children home, lest they become contaminated or infected.
A week passed and with it the novelty. People talked less of the blood covered man. The mayor and constable decided that, while the man had not so much as blinked during in the time since his arrival, something had to be done. They sensed a latent threat and gave voice to that paranoia. A town meeting was called in the local tavern.
“The question is not what as much as when,” Mayor Zenningberg told the assembled audience. “This bloody man represents a danger we have never experienced.”
“But he has done nothing,” farmer Aenni reasoned. The old man was well known for his wisdom. “How can we act against a being that doesn’t even seem to breathe?” “That is not the point! Sure, the bloody man may not have acted against us yet, but that is not to say he won’t soon,” Zenningberg insisted.
A chorus of cheers and murmurs filled the room. The people were frightened. That much was certain. An undertone of fear laced the smoke thickened air. Old and young alike could feel it. Danger lingered just beyond the borders of common sense. The bloody man was a danger. He must be dealt with.
Zenningberg held up his hands for silence. It took a moment, but the crowd finally stopped their chatter long enough for him to continue.
“My friends, I love this village. I have spent my entire life here and devoted the last fifteen years to making it the best village in the middle kingdoms. The Baron of Berchenfel has used this as his model community. That being said, we cannot allow this thing to remain here. The longer he stays the more danger we are in.”
“Danger from what? He hasn’t moved at all.”
Zenningberg caught the familiar face of Prentiss. He snorted. The lad was the local troublemaker, a youth who did not see the value in the wisdom of his elders. The boy needed to keep his mouth closed and go about his business.
“Prentiss, imagine what would happen when he does move. That creature has got to be nearly ten feet tall. And look at the muscles on him. He’s a beast of man and I for one do not wish to find out what he means to do.” Zenningberg smiled to himself. He could feel the mood of the crowd shifting back towards him. “Let us not forget that he came here by supernatural means!”
“Prove it!” Prentiss shouted.
“How can you deny otherwise?” came a frail voice from the back of the room.
All eyes turned to see Father Dorchea striding towards Zenningberg and the podium. The Father was the most respected man in the village. When he spoke, people listened.
His stern eyes leveled on the crowd. He was a thin man, old and covered with liver spots. His hair, what was left, was thin, close cropped and streaked gray.
“This Bloody Man is a message, sent to us by the Gods to confront our sins against the Fathers,” he told them.
“Father, the gods do not always interfere with the whims of man. What have we done to draw the wrath of the gods?” asked the mayor.
Father Dorchea slid through the crowd to stand beside his friend. “My friends, who are we to question the creators of all life? Are we not the children of gods? The very spark sent unto this world to bring joy where once only darkness reigned. This is not an easy thing of which I speak. My heart aches from the signs before my eyes. The Bloody Man is a bane to our continued existence.”
Arguments spread through the crowd. Some for, some against the continued presence of the Bloody Man. Perhaps the worst part of the situation was that gnawing uncertainty buried within each of them. Uncertainty can be a powerful emotion; strong enough to spark unabashed fear or peak the highest curiosity. Fear slowly won out. The tide of emotions turned towards the bitter prospects of the potential horror the Bloody Man represented and how best to deal with the situation.
It was all talk until Jarris Thoom came in carrying the limp form of his youngest daughter. Tears streaked his cheeks and his voice trembled as much as his waning strength. “The Bloody Man! It was him! He killed my Elisa!”
Zenningberg bellowed for quiet. “How Jarris? How did he do this thing?”
Jarris sank to his knees. He cried uncontrollably, gently placing Elisa’s body on the dust covered wooden floor. “Those kids,” he whispered. “I told them not to go near him. I told them, I told them, I told them.” He looked up into the panic stricken eyes of both the Father and the Mayor. “They just wouldn’t listen. They had to go play near this monster. And he killed her!”
Zenningberg passed Father Dorchea a sidelong glance. In a voice just loud enough for the two to hear, he said, “that settles it. We have to get rid of him somehow.”
Dorchea nodded and dropped down to comfort poor Jarris.
“Everyone, listen to me!” the Mayor roared to be heard. “Go to your homes and find what weapons you can. Tonight we will end the threat of this Bloody Man. Go now!”
“And what of the gods? Will they not punish us for what we seek to do?” Prentiss asked accusingly. “I don’t believe much in gods and signs, but if what the Father and poor Jarris Thoom said are true then something must be done, but violence is not the answer.”
“There is no other way!”
“He has already killed once, are you so willing to let him do it again?” Zenningberg asked.
Prentiss shook his head. “A moment ago we all preached peace and now look at you! Nothing more than a blood thirsty mob! We were not raised this way. This village has avoided going to war for three generations and now we throw it all away on the whim of a single incident? I cannot stand for this.”
“Our paths have already been chosen!” Father Dorchea replied. “The gods demand action.”
“And if we die?”
“Then the gods decreed.”
The simple answer was chilling. An eerie silence settled over those gathered for a tender moment. The atmosphere stifled. A choking feeling hung at the back of everyone’s throats. Jarris Thoom solved it all in a single act of violence. Hatred and rage collided in his mind, creating a super emotion that no sense of morality or reason could overpower. He looked up at the young Prentiss.
“That thing killed my little girl!” he roared. Jarris moved quicker than anyone anticipated. On his feet and dagger drawn before they could react, he plunged the old, nicked blade deep into Prentiss’ chest. The youth fell with a cry, dark blood flowing down his tunic.
In that moment every bird launched into the sky. A thunder clap so loud it shook the foundations of the world began a whirlwind. The Bloody Man blinked once. The emotions he felt were indescribable, but he’d felt them before. More than once he had been forced to act in response, lest they become too much even for his soul to bear. Strength filled his muscles and his skin danced with electricity that glowed blue in the dark of night. The first to die were those closest. At nearly twelve feet tall and thicker than three men put together, the Bloody Man swung his fists like clubs, smashing and crushing bone and muscle. Men and women ran screaming. Some tried to make a stand, but it was not enough. Nothing was enough to stem the tide of violence pouring from the Bloody Man. It was a scene from Hell. Broken bodies began to pile up. Hatred so deep it set fire to every building in sight consumed the village. The Bloody Man did what the gods had created him to do. He killed. And killed. And killed until there were none left to oppose him.
Mayor Zenningberg died from fright. His old heart couldn’t comprehend the sights opened to him. Father Dorchea knelt before the Bloody Man and prayed for those few moments before his head was crushed like a piece of rotten fruit in the Bloody Man’s mighty fist. And then the Bloody Man stopped suddenly. His eyes opened and he saw the devastation he had caused for the first time. Not a soul lived in the village of Kovlchen. Even the smallest dog and youngest child had been killed, their bodies a travesty of human form. Homes and shops were leveled. The entire area looked as if a massive earthquake had ravaged it. He tilted his head back, horrified at what he had done.
“NOOOO!” he cried, and dropped to his knees in misery.
Not again, he shook his head. Not again. Tears spilled from his eyes. The destruction burned what was left of his heart, ate at the depths of his soul. Pain and suffering seemed his eternal companions and he didn’t know why. These people had done nothing to deserve the horror he’d unleashed. Murder. That’s what it was. Sheer, brutal murder. No one would ever learn what had happened to the quiet village of Kovlchen on that dark autumn night. An entire people were destroyed before the sun had the chance to rise.
The Bloody Man cried for them all. Every last soul he sent back to his father caused a tear so large it created a sea of raw agony. He sank to his knees. The old doubt had returned to his soul. He remembered why he had fled humanity so many centuries ago. He wasn’t made for this life, but there was no alternative. The Bloody Man yanked himself to his feet. His movements were timid, like a scolded child.
Ever had he been this way. The gods had cursed him. The Bloody Man walked through the carnage, praying for a sign of life. Death mocked his efforts. Agony filled faces stared back at him. He heard their twisted laughter echoing back from the depths of Hell. This seemed his lot in life. Suffering. His soul cried through the dark hours of the night.
And then he found it. Found that single spark of life that suggested hope had not died. He knelt down beside the body of a small child and gently cradled her in his massive arms. A tear fell, splashing on her cheek. The girl groaned and breathed deep. She opened her eyes; radiant green and speckled with fear.
“Shhh,” he whispered. “Do not be afraid. I will not harm you.”
She screamed and struggled in his grasp.
“Please,” he pleaded. “I will not hurt you.”
He finally set her down, expecting her to flee. But she didn’t. She stood fast and stared back in wonder.
“What happened to my momma?” she asked. Her voice was strained and broken.
He bowed his head. “I am sorry.”
The Bloody Man stood and turned to leave.
“Wait,” the girl asked. “Who are you?”
He stopped long enough to look back over his shoulder with pained eyes. “Sorrow. My name is Sorrow.”
Passionate about history, he combines his knowledge of the past with modern military tactics to create an engaging, quasi-realistic world for the readers. He graduated from Campbell University with a degree in history and is pursuing a Masters of Arts degree in Military History from Norwich University. He currently lives outside of Raleigh, N.C. and devotes his time to writing, his family, and their two Bernese Mountain Dogs. If you drive by you might just find him on the porch with a cigar in one hand and a pen in the other.
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Unlike much in life, my answer for this is simple. It’s what I was born to do. Ok, maybe not really, but it sure feels like it. It all began in the summer of 77 when my dad took me to see Star Wars in the drive in. Mind blown. We followed that up with Ralph Bakshi’s version of Lord of the Rings and I was hooked! I started making goofy comic books and then less goofy ones. I wrote a very bad horror novel in 10th grade that earned me the student of the month award. (Every time I go home I try to find it and burn it.)
Joining the Army in 1991 put my plans on hold- but it was another thing I wanted to do. I wrote a few books during my first 10 yrs in service and didn’t get serious about it until I became so bored while in Afghanistan that I dug deeper. Since retiring from the Army I have gone on to put out over 20 military fantasy and science fiction novels. Not bad for a young kid from western New York who had a pen and a dream.
Inspiration comes in many forms and degrees. The origins of one of my favorite books: Beyond the Edge of Dawn, came from my time in Baghdad, Iraq in 2005. Stationed at Camp Victory- situated beside Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), I used to run around a large lake at night. In the center of the lake was a bombed-out palace that one of Saddam Hussein’s sons once owned. I was in Mosul, Iraq in 2003 when Saddam was captured, and his sons were caught and killed in a gnarly firefight. Much to my chagrin, Saddam himself was being held prisoner in the bombed-out palace. Each night I would run around the lake and try to catch a glimpse of the Hitler-influenced dictator.
I never did get to see him before he was tried and hung by and Iraqi court, but during those nights a name entered my head. Wheels began to turn. Who was he/she? What did he do? Why should I write a story about him? The answers kept coming and each night when I finished my run I would go to my notebook and write the details down. By the time my third tour of duty in Iraq was finished I had the outline for Dawn. Inspiration can be found everywhere, if only we open our eyes to see it.
I write military fantasy and science fiction. I use my 3 combat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, a 20+ year career in the active duty Army, and a Masters of Arts in military history to provide readers with what I believe is a fairly accurate depiction of what war is like. Funny, I actually received a negative review from a reader claiming the action was too realistic. Wait…that’s what I was going for.
Sure, it happens on different worlds with weird species, but don’t we want a little touch of truth? I remember seeing The Two Towers for the first time when I was in Afghanistan in 2002. A fan of the Lord of the Rings from a young age, I was amazed and disappointed with what Peter Jackson churned out. Of course, the pirated copy we got our hands on somehow managed to gets most of the scenes out of order- explain that one to me…- but Jackson clearly had no understanding of tactics and strategy. The amount of lives lost during the siege of Helm’s Deep was appalling to me. It could have been me being in war or the fact that I led troops in combat. Regardless, I decided then and there to never let that slip into my writing. I may not produce the best books ever, but I do my best to make them engage, entertaining, and to leave the reader sitting back in their chair and saying…damn.
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