Read The Auric Insignia Online

Authors: Perry Horste

The Auric Insignia

Preface

 

By the time of writing this, I don’t know if this book will see the light of day in its finished state.

     Depending on your definition of the word “writer”, it may apply to me or it may not. If you define it as a person who conveys, (or at least attempts to) a story, an idea, a concept through the written word, the definition gets very broad, so broad that it even includes me. If you define “writer” as a person being the product of higher learning, an academic who’s honed their craft through reading the complete works of the masters of old, then, I’m not a writer.

     I’m just a guy, (man if you will, I won’t object) that has a passion for storytelling in all its forms.

     That didn’t sound douchey at all when I read it aloud......

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     No matter if this book gets out there, I must say, now, as I’m closing in on the final page, that I’m proud. I’m proud over this book and the fact that I’ve not quit along the way. No matter what reactions it might garner, love, hate, or perhaps worst of all, indifference, I’m proud.

     I’m grateful for the people in my life that, beyond the love and friendship we already share, took time out of their busy lives to read parts of, or the entirety of this book in its yet to be finished state. Constructive criticism and/or just the fact that I knew someone was waiting for a new chapter to read, was a big factor in finishing this book at all, and for that, I thank you.

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     Further more, I’d appreciate if any of you out there that find and read this book, could also say what you thought about it, either on Amazon or Goodreads (which is an amazing site if you didn’t already know). Whether you liked it or hated it, I want to know!

 

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Prologue

 

Up in the air, the bird of prey hovers on strong wings, the color of brown and burnished gold. At the top of the world, the bird flaps its wings to maintain its altitude, surveying the land spreading out underneath it. Molded by the ruthless hands of the world, its very shape perfected, the bird of prey searches below. Eyes beyond those of most beasts, eyes watching and scanning, noticing every movement and every twitch.

     In the short grass covering the plains, a husk of rabbits are leaving their warren, going out into the open for the one thing no living entity stands above, sustenance. Like bundles of tightly coiled springs made from energy, the rabbits live their lives in the now, heart pounding, blood pumping, to sustain an existence synonymous with fear and no respite. As they jump out, through the miniature hallways of the field, created by the ever hesitant steps of habit, through natural corridors of verdure, the dirt beneath them is painted in the golden lime of the sun rays traveling through blades of grass. The sun however, like nature, is fair. Paradoxically cold, it aids and hinders everything, all seemingly without thought, to the point of what could be seen as cruel chaos.

     Hidden inside the warm white rays of the sun, inside the energy that fuels the world, death flies on feathered wings. Unknowingly, a rabbit is being matched in a rigged fight, it the nadir, blindly waiting for the antipodal apex to come crashing down. For a second, the veil is pulled back and the meadow can be seen for what it really is, a battlefield. A battlefield that claims another victim as a rabbit is caught in a flurry of sharp claws, rendering flesh. Let loose, the fur clad springs shoot off in the commotion, spreading like dust on the wind. Their feet acting as the drums of war, bombarding the opening with a thrumming crescendo. What affection there might have been, blood relations and comradery, were now shattered by chaos, chaos thats holds no allegiances, chaos that knows no creed, chaos that is the servant of none.

     The raptor, victorious where its prey failed, consumes its fleeting spoils of an eternal and all including war, before it once more flaps its wings and takes flight. A, for the rabbits remaining, random strike from above, nonetheless inescapable, a fact of life. Life that offers no rest from its never ending quest to prolong its own existence, this as well, ostensibly without clear direction or purpose beyond the self perpetuating rhythm. And so it goes on, the husk of rabbits resume their search for food, their number reduced by one. The bird of prey, the wolf of the sky, starts the familiar journey back home, rising on the warm winds of its fickle beneficiary. Today a victor, claiming the boon of the battle but still never seeing the end of the struggle, the bird leaves the plains and the warrens behind, driven by something it cannot explain. A feeling, an urge, an instinct, something driving and pushing beyond any apparent logic, but still not losing any of its potency.

     With the fields behind it, smatterings of tree groves meld together in the form of a forest for a brief moment before giving way to wasteland. There, on the edge of its world, falling to nihility, stands a tree. Once one among many, now a precious member of a dying realm. At its top lies a nest where hatchlings are waiting for their meal, hatchlings that begin an infantile frenzy at the arrival of their parent and provider. Having fed its newborn young, the winged hunter looks out over the scene spreading out in front of them. Like a plague sweeping over the land, a desolate clear cut approaches with an ominous ruthlessness. The serene and beautiful, constantly and continuously oppressed by an ever growing expansion fueled by something beyond the balancing chaos of nature, something perverse.

 

***

 

 

Bite me

 

-Quiet,Quiet......Quiet now....

     Snap!

     A branch hidden beneath the foliage gave way under Roarke’s weight, sending it’s loud protest bouncing away through the trees. The elk froze, and thinking he had already failed, Roarke gave out a loud shout of vexation which finally sent the animal dashing off through the woods. Realizing he had once again let his temper get the better of him, Roarke punched the nearest tree that happened to be in the wrong place.

     With a throbbing hand and a bruised ego, he started walking home. The beauty of the forest was lost on him today, he was in a foul mood, even fouler than before. This was the third time this week that he had made a mistake and it vexed him beyond compare. He was decent hunter, he knew that, but all self praise in the world wouldn’t put food on his table or money in his pocket.

     He wouldn’t starve, he could scavenge roots from the Dush plant, though bitter in taste at least they didn’t  run away. Besides, he needed the meat for other reasons, if he wanted anything other than what he could make himself, trinkets or clothes, he needed money and no man had ever grown rich from selling bitter-as-death-tasting roots.

     -Curse that fucking Elk, and all his family! I hope that woodfolk eat you alive! And curse my short temper!

     When he realized the irony of the situation, his mood grew even fouler. He had always been like this, for as long as he could remember at least. He had had a relatively good childhood, he had never been popular or particularly well liked but neither had he been shunned by the other children. He had just been there, in the periphery. His parents, before they passed away, had been caring and loving as parents should. Unfortunately for Roarke, this meant he had nothing to blame for his nature other than himself.

     On his way back to the cabin he stopped by his snares where his luck had been better. Four hares had met their end during the night but this was a meager replacement for the ample reward that would have been his, had he been successful in killing the elk. Once again he would have to go to the town square with next to nothing and stand there, feeling like he was the town fool. That feeling was much worse than not being able to buy some trinket or not having a big filet on his plate.

     When he arrived at the market, it was still early and the square was empty save for two mutts playing in a muddy pool of water. Roarke went to his same old spot to set up and after a full five minutes, spent hanging up his rabbits and sweeping out the collected dust, Roarke found himself dreaming away the time, as he often did. He would dream of of living a life of luxury and ease, spending his life in a castle of his own. Sometimes,  more often than he would like to admit to himself, he thought of a woman. An unknown beauty in need of aid, a maid that, because of his daring rescue, would be hopelessly infatuated.

     -Is the rest a surprise?

     -wha-what?

     -I said, is the rest a surprise or is this all?

     It was Marielle, she had sneaked up on him with Roarke being none the wiser. An act that in its itself proved her superiority. She was a warrior, any man could see it, that her chosen battlefield was the vast forests the surrounded Brightseed was just an inadvertent stroke of chance. She was a beautiful woman with her sharp hard lines that gave a her a look of danger and ruthfulness. Lush strawberry blond hair bundled up in a thick braid ran like a golden stream down toned shoulders that gave witness to the long hours training with the bow. The smug smile on her face led Roarke to think that she was jesting.

     -Well, I have it packed away until someone asks for it, don’t want the meat to spoil, quality is everything.

     -Of course, very astute of you.

     This was empty words as they both knew that any hunter worth their weight, would salt or smoke any meat they planned on keeping longer than to the nearest campfire.

     -Well, I must depart, I’ve got my own meat to attend to. Braise,  Rugueux!

     A rumbling betrayed their presence before they were seen. The two giant hounds came sprinting from the other side of the square where they had been lurking around, waiting for their masters call. When they had made it across, they stopped and with an eerie, almost human like discipline, straightened up and froze in place.

     If it wasn’t for their longs coats flowing in the wind, one dirty blond and the other coal black, one could have thought they were statues. The huntress with her beasts then left, with the same graceful elegance by which she had arrived, elegance that hinted at the predator hidden within. They made a powerful sight to behold, walking with the confidence that made both men and women, young and old, make way. The sun kept rising in the sky and with it people began to arrive and circulate the square. Men and women of all ages had made their way, from far and near, to the town square of Brightseed, not a big village by any means but the only thing resembling a structured civilization for nearly a hundred miles. Brightseed was the northernmost settlement of man, lying deep within the huge Brightwood forest. The village had started as no more than an outpost set up in the days of old to guard against the unknown evils of legend that lurked in the deep canyons that made up the Horned Mountains. Black razors covered in dark twisted trees that seemed to glow at night, and cast an ever closing shadow of impending doom towards the small village. Even if the mission of old, to safeguard the realm, was lost in time, and the people who now made Brightseed their home went along with their lives, they did not do so without caution.

     No man or woman right of mind would delve into the dark woods that started at the base of the mountains. Those who had done so in the past, whether for promises of riches untold or because of unsound bravery, did not return. The explanations for this ranged from mundane to extraordinary, some believed that the mountain range was simply uninhabitable, that the adventurers in search for riches simply neglected the search for food. Other, inclined towards a superstitious thought of mind, believed in the woodfolk. Eerie beings of legend and lore that inhabited the woods to the north, the woodfolk were unnatural monsters that had been created by an unholy  union of  a demon worshipper and twisted roots. The stories told of a wizard that had lived at the base of the biggest peak eons ago. Hungry for power and blinded by his greed, he made a pact with the evil energies of the earth, granting him power and never-ending life. In exchange for this, he would forsake his soul and promise to sire more to the ranks of evil. And so the story went, careless folk would be snatched away never to be seen by either friend or family, their flesh turning into bark, their hands into claws and their very blood into sap.

     Roarke, being a man of sparse wealth and limited skill with a bow, lived closer to the mountains than most. This was no accident but an active choice. When the time had come for Roarke to leave his parents and make a living on his own, he had, being a man not lacking in boldness, made a calculated risk and built his cottage farther north than most people ventured by their own free will. This had two major perks, according to Roarke, first of all, he would get his peace and quiet. Living where he did, he would not encounter another human soul unless he decided himself that he wanted to do so. The second and by far the main reason, was a byproduct of the first, because of the low concentration of people coming and going this far north, the wildlife prospered, adding to his chances of him walking home with something, instead of nothing. Given his recent luck, or lack thereof, Roarke was grateful for the choice he had made.

     The sun had passed the highest point in the sky and had begun it’s slow descent, the marketplace was beginning to empty, with people returning to their homes and to their professions.  Roarke,  who lived farther away than most,  was eager to get going. Darkness would be falling by the time he returned to his cabin and even if he was bold, he wasn’t stupid. It would be like inviting trouble to travel at night so far north, woodfolk or not. If one wasn’t careful, one could meet an untimely end in a number of ways. Shredded by the tusks of a boar or devoured by a wolf, the large stalkers the roamed the base of the mountains. He was going along one of the few maintained roads going north, this particular one heading to the most northern watch post still manned, Brownwatch. It had gotten it’s name from the legendary watchman Brown, who, if the stories could be trusted, had stood vigil there when the wizard had come down mountains to claim the souls of the people that populated Brightwood. Brown had somehow sensed the impending doom and made a stand against the evil sorcerer, driving him back into the cursed valleys. That a simple guard could have bested a man fueled by the dark energies of the earth was something that seemed unlikely to Roarke, who gave his faith to more concrete matters. But he figured that it had to be called something, and being named after a famed hero of history or a valiant champion of a fairytale was as good a reason as any.

     When he started to get nearer, he could discern a familiar light in a small clearing ahead of him, that told him that Galt was cooking his supper. Galt, the present guard of Brownwatch was a weak shadow, hardly fitting of the title, guardsman of Brownwatch, with all the history and awe that followed. But times had changed and a backwoods encampment like the one before Roarke wasn’t what little boys dreamed of at night. The appeal and honor that had once come with the job had fallen out of memory, being replaced with exotic tales of the grand cities to the south. When Roarke walked inside the light of the fire, he was hailed by the large figure devouring a goat leg by the hearth.

     -Roarke, cutting it close as always, eh!? It’s black as the fur of the darkest wolf out here, it is.

     -Good evening Galt, you’re vigilant as always, I was almost upon you before you saw me.

     The corpulent man bellowed a laugh and slapped his knee in delight.

     -Get off my back, boy! I’ve been walking the borders all day and as usual, the only evil intruder I saw was that blasted chipmunk that has been stealing all my nuts!

     -A guardsman of Brownwatch, bested by a fuzzy rodent? A bleak future is in hold for us if the wizard should decide to come crashing down the mountain.

     -Well, if I can keep my  nuts, he can have my soul, I can tell you that right now.

     -I always say Galt, you should have become a trader, you would’ve been a rich man.

     -And you should have become a jester, being so bloody funny all the time. Besides, you can’t shoot a bow to save your life. Speaking of which, here take the leg, I shouldn’t eat so much anyway.

     -I really should get going, it’s getting dark.

     -Ha! Since when has that ever stopped you!? You can have a torch if you like, now, humor an old man and sit.

     He pulled up a stool and seated himself some distance away from the fire. The forest never really grew cold, being so dense, it never let the warmth out, so the fire was mainly for vision and morale. He studied the man sitting across the fire, the shadow of his massive body reaching all the way to the treeline. Galt, a man of fifty two that didn’t look a day younger than sixty five, his rough exterior hinting at the simple, rough man within. A man so obviously bereft of blessings in life, and yet so content, Roarke admired that about him, though he would never admit it. Galt was rough, and blunt, no one who had met him could deny it, but if one looked deeper, one would find that he was a kind spirit willing to aid those who allowed him. He took a bite from the grilled leg and savored the flavor, Galt was a mediocre guard but he was a sorcerer in his own right when it came to cooking. Roarke thanked the spirits he didn’t believe in, for not being better at cooking himself, otherwise there would be two fat men sitting by the fire.

     -And if your career as a trader didn’t pan out, you could always start up a tavern. Your recipes are the closest I’ve come to seeing magic in this world.

     -Fancy talk will get you nowhere, that’s my last leg you’re eating right there so, no more for you!

     -Galthar Grudious, your lowly thoughts concerning my honor strikes me like an arrow to the heart.

     -Galthar, bah! Galthar was my father and he’s not around anymore, and good riddance! No good wench-bedding drunkard....

     Roarke smiled, having once again been able to lure an outburst out of the old guardsman. When Galt realized he had been taken for a fool, a smile split his worn facade and his familiar laughter boomed out into the woods.

     -Well, delicious meat aside, I really should get going. How about one of those torches you mentioned earlier?

     -Alright, alright, leave an old man all alone in the woods why don’t ya! I’ll get you your bloody torch.

     -Most kind, Galthar, my good man, most kind indeed.

     -Bite me.

 

***

 

 

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