Glenn Rolfe, author of the recently released BOOM TOWN, tagged me on Facebook earlier this week to participate in this “work in progress” blog tour. Since I’m hesitant to show you any bits of ULT #6 (which just wrapped up preliminary edits), I’ve decided to show you something else. Something you’ve all probably been waiting for. Here’s the (completely unedited) prologue for NONENTITY, the final Monochrome novel. Naturally, this is all subject to change, and though it goes without saying, it’s copyrighted (C) 2015 by Todd Keisling (e.g. Yours Truly).
So, here goes. This one’s for you folks. And Glenn, of course.
Book Three of the Monochrome Trilogy
by Todd Keisling
PROLOGUE: CHILDREN OF THE UNGOD
A low bitter wind swept down from the Column, brushing back Aleister Dullington’s cowl. Trembling, squinting upward into the breeze, the lone monk sucked in his breath and held it there until his lungs were ready to burst. He exhaled slowly, clutching at the sleeves of his ashen robe as a fleeting chill crawled down his neck.
These were strange days in the Monochrome. He could not recall the last time he felt wind or even a shift in temperature in this vapid wasteland. The gray dust of inert eons, once brought to rest by the will of the Great Weaver, was disturbed in the breeze for the first time since creation.
Aleister watched as small ghostly cyclones tore dusty trails across the plane, whirling with fits and stops over the bleeding bodies of his fallen brethren. He watched until the winds vanished, and the dust was once more laid to rest in silence. Strange days, indeed.
He looked down at what was left of his friend. Christopher Dullington’s body was torn in half, bisected across the waist by one of the Monochrome’s pale beasts. Torn remnants of the man’s intestines were strung outward in a slimy trail that led back to the scene of his demise.
Aleister knelt and traced his fingers across Christopher’s face, closing his gray eyes for the last time.
“I am sorry, old friend. I had no choice.”
Remorse stirred within him, a deeply rooted ache entwined with his bones, but the feeling was fleeting, and within minutes it was gone. The sensation was but another memory of who he was now laid to rest, its ghost clutching desperately for one last instance of life—and like all the others, it was denied, stamped back down into its grave by the light of the Ungod.
The old feelings will wither and fade, his master once told him. How long ago, he could not say. The buzzing drone of the Monochrome filled his mind now, humming with the resonance of a billion plucked strings all connected here at the tuning fork of reality.
Only the agonizing screams of his brothers bled through the din of a dreaming world and the prison born from its populace. Their cries awoke the ghosts of his humanity, and now the spirits were rattling their chains.
Aleister shifted his gaze toward the bodies of his brothers. Many were silent and still, but a few struggled against their mortality, writhing across the sand like gray worms after the rain. He turned away and gazed toward the horizon where his minions waited.
The gaunt, pale figures marched together across the empty plane, congregating at the center of their reality to welcome their new master. They were ready to accept his wishes, ready to do his bidding. And they were ravenous.
Come, children. Finish what was begun.
The Yawning lumbered across the sands as an army of tiny white figures poured between their limbs like water. The Cretins swarmed forward in unison, their backwards chatter complimenting the low drones of the Monochrome. Aleister heard their voices in his head, and more, he understood them. All of them in unison, each creature individually—they were facets of a single entity, a part of the Monochrome itself, and he was their Keeper. He had transcended his station as an acolyte of the Order, and with the light of the Ungod, his humanity was burned away from him in a solemn sacrifice of flesh.
Now he was one with the Monochrome, for better or worse
Another gust of stale wind swept down from the ancient pylon, stirring sands over the bodies of his brethren. The few who still clung to life cried out helplessly as the Yawning bore down upon them.
One of his minions reared back, lifting a squalling man into the air and silencing his pained shrieks with a single crunch. The Yawning shook its head like a rabid animal, flinging the man’s severed legs across the gray expanse. One of the legs landed inches from Dullington’s feet and splattered his robe with blood.
The first drop of many, he thought, lifting his unending gaze to the Column’s zenith. A thick glowing tendril of woven strings rose from the structure’s center, stretching to the sky where it dispersed into a million fading lines. He felt the vibration of the great strings, rippling like the disturbed waters of a pond—or a fly caught in a spider’s web.
And behind his blackened lidless eyes, he saw phantoms of his former brothers through the unblinking gaze of his minions. Their eyes were his now. They were one. Such was the burden of enlightenment; such was the burden of his new charge. He would not avoid the bloodshed, now or ever again.
“Do not avert your eyes, Aleister. Drink of the pain you have wrought. Drink it deep, but do not fill your belly. There will be more to come.”
Aleister looked down at the corpse. His old friend’s gray eyes were open. The voice croaking through Christopher’s ashen lips did not belong to him. This voice spoke through the other dead, a hollow army bellowing the commands of a single master.
“I see we are more alike than you would admit, Aleister.”
“I am nothing like you, Pontius Vile.”
Christopher Dullington’s corpse smiled as it choked out a laugh. Bubbles of blood and spittle erupted from its mouth.
“We are all children of the Ungod. We are all bound to this banal coil, and somewhere in the tethers that feed the slumbering beast, you and I are entwined whether you like it or not. So it has been and so it shall be.”
Aleister rose to his feet, lifting his heavy gaze from his dead friend to the Column. The broken structure loomed over all creation, a remnant of his master’s lost civilization built to house something no man would ever understand. The Column was meant to keep the slumbering entity safe from the malign influence of meddling parties—and now his old master had sealed himself within, entombed with the beast and free to do as he pleased.
“I will not let you do this, Vile.”
“And I will not let you stop me, insect. I will find a way.”
A low sob echoed across the gray expanse as one of the Yawning approached them. Aleister stepped back from Christopher’s body as the lumbering creature closed the gap in four long strides, its giant knuckles leaving trails behind in the sand. The voice of Pontius Vile did not abate, however; it continued to chatter away even as the hulking beast took the body within his spindly hands.
“I have seen where the strings will lead, Aleister. These are the hopes and dreams of a dying planet. Man must be forced to confront his failures—”
Vile was silenced with a thick, loud crunch as Christopher Dullington’s spine snapped in two between the Yawning’s jaws. Another gust of wind erupted from the summit of the Column, carrying with it the faint echo of an old man’s rage.
Aleister knelt once more, tracing his fingers through the stirring sands as the creatures of the Monochrome retreated back into the gray haze. He looked up at the Column once again, clinging to the memories that made him, to the memories of who he was—and who he would never be again.
Alone, he said to the wind, “Not until I confront mine.”
Aleister Dullington bowed his head and waited.