Origin: The Nameless Celestial

Book 1

by Aaron R. Allen

An elite forces ranger must keep his dark secret at bay to unravel the mystery of a nameless evil.

Chief Ranger Cahan Devlin is no ordinary human. A dark corruption is growing inside him, clawing against the walls of his sanity. This force influences his every action, and the lines between ally and enemy are constantly blurred. Of course, it doesn’t help that the defeat of a nameless evil rests on his unstable shoulders.

After a routine mission, Cahan captures a loose-tongued demon half-breed. The prisoner implicates conspirators within the government who are colluding with demon insurgents from a foreign land. Their goal is to destabilize the Republic of Protos, her wards, and human colonies—in an effort to reseat a king upon the throne. Unbeknownst to the conspirators, their foreign allies wish to awaken a great evil, a clan of off-worlders who were previously driven from the planet before recorded history by a celestial being.

As Cahan quests to unravel the mystery of the evil off-worlders, he must diffuse the ticking time bomb that he has become—because at any moment he may murder the ally standing by his side.


Book Trailer


Excerpt

Chapter One

~ The Bone Skipper ~

 

The airship lifted from the ground and took to the skies. Cahan Devlin felt a distant rumble as the central energy chamber churned to increase speed. He grabbed onto the notched handhold above where he sat. He felt a tremor in his jaw when the airship jolted him forward, but focused his thoughts on his men. Most of them had fought in several battles, shoulder-to-shoulder with him. He didn’t linger on the fact some would not make the return home. He found when he thought too much about getting everyone home, the death toll was even higher. Even though it was just semi-demons they were to face, casualties were the only constant in battle.

As Cahan rose, he noticed a bleak detachment scrawled upon the faces of his men, their eyes distant and cold. They seemed wholly focused on the violence ahead and were probably unwilling to mutter even a sentence. He knew his men were just getting in the proper mindset for their mission. Some of them busied themselves by mending armor and sharpening swords.

A brush of warm air from the corner of the passenger chamber drew his attention. A spellcrafter plied a heat spell to dry out socks and boots spread out in a perfect line along the wall. A red incandescence traced the lines of his face.

The oval-shaped passenger chamber, located in the belly of the airship, met the standard no-frills approach of most Verindian military vessels. Cahan heard a slight echo, which reverberated off the alloy-lined hold as he walked. He continued to a covered window and used the concealment crank to open it. He wanted to look outside because he did not like confined areas. A biting coldness came off the window. He often took comfort in the cold. He placed his fingertips against the cool glass for a moment. Then, with his index finger, he drew the runic symbol for the goddess Valese.

Just ahead lay Blasstock, the site of their mission. Though they needed to pass the spellcrafted barrier that protected this land—for the most part, anyway—their ship’s ingress rune would ensure them passage. All airborne vessels required a rune, whereas humans could simply walk in on foot—if they could survive the savage demons on the other side of the barrier.

These lands were designated as a human colony by the demon-inhabited capital city of Protos, though they had once fallen heir to the wandering dogmatists of a long-dead order. The wind-blistered settlement had stood for a century near the foot of the barrier. Many humans had migrated here due largely to the need for airship workers. The constructors of these vessels had built their workshops upon Blasstock’s unencumbered land, choosing the location because of the large selection of workers and the safety the barrier provided.

According to Cahan’s superior officer, that safety had evaporated as throngs of Amalgam incendiary forces had routinely laid nocturnal siege to Blasstock and her human citizens. Amalgam, as they were commonly called by demons and humans alike, were born of two worlds: part human and part demon. They were often hired as mercenaries by other invading creatures, ones strictly attuned to the spellcrafted barrier and unable to pass its limits. The Amalgam’s distant human lineage allowed passage between the opposing nations, freeing them to spread the seeds of conflict as their masters saw fit.

Cahan knew there was always a loophole whenever spellcraft was involved. He didn’t understand why they couldn’t simply fix the mistake. He supposed they would have to take the barrier down to fix it, which would allow all manner of feral demons into human lands, and eventually Protos. If that happened, it would be akin to setting loose a plague of locusts—if the locusts were ten feet tall and craved human flesh. He guessed that the powers that be could accept casualties here and there at the hands of the Amalgam.

As they closed in, Cahan watched the energy of the barrier envelop the entire vessel, transforming from a barely perceptible white to a cerulean blue. The cold that he had just felt evaporated into warmth. He watched the runic symbol he had just drawn slowly soften and fade away. Each district’s unique rune turned the barrier a different color upon entry. He remembered that Protos’s rune caused a brilliant emerald green.

As they delved deeper into Blasstock, Cahan felt a grim silence that pervaded over the rolling hills of the territory. It still truly looked like an archaic land inhabited by superstitious beasts. Decaying vistas held carved obelisks of long-dead demons hailing from a blood-mired bygone era. Rough, irregular stones littered large swaths of land, whose concentric orientation was cradled by earth bled of its former decadence. To the casual observer, the panorama of oddly placed stone resembled ancient grave markers, tirelessly carved for the billowing giants of old. Cahan knew that to cling to this idea was to ignore the inherent evil of these lands and the vague shrieking of the spectral hills that seemed to snake its way through the joints of the airship. Cahan felt uneasy. Corrupted lands such as these had a certain measure of sentience. The parasitic earth often fed on fallen warriors during times of bloodshed, eventually digesting the entire body slowly over long periods of time.

A faint tug jarred the airship. Cahan’s men went about their business, unfazed. They needed this time to focus. He wondered if he should check it out. He decided to turn his thoughts to the mission.

He had read in his reports that the insurrection of the Amalgam had grown more and more violent, inciting murderous savagery and causing the enemy to grow emboldened. The tempest winds gathering in malevolent wisps of gray gave credence to this. Many considered this to be one of the dread omens of Shabaris, the Dead Caller, an ancient and thought-to-be-dead evil.

As they pushed closer to a decayed glen, he saw the grayish energy. It rose from the hills above and rippled outward, only to be carried away by the howling wind. He didn’t expect to see such a thing before they had arrived at their destination. Why didn’t the capital city, Protos, intervene and massacre the Amalgam with their gargantuan dragonoid soldiers? He decided to let that go for now. He had obsessed over the politics of the capital city for months. This made his mission all the more important because he didn’t want the chaos to spread to Verinda.

Cahan faltered as the chamber shifted more fiercely. However unlikely, it felt as though they had run into something. There were no other airships scheduled in the territory, as he had viewed an itinerary of travel just before they had disembarked. He again grabbed a handhold and looked to his men.

“Tell the pilot to slow down while I go topside,” Cahan ordered.

He reached the topside hatch and quickly churned the crank to open it. He stepped out on the deck and felt the air push at him violently. The wind whistled in his ears. He quickly surveyed the area. There were no other vessels in sight.

As he explored the deck, he began to think about how he had gotten here. He thought of how alien the lands and inhabitants of his last mission looked to his eyes. Their way of life was so antiquated compared to the place he called home. He almost pitied them. He tilted his head down for a moment and felt a deep sense of sentimentality. His mind flipped through images of his old stomping grounds, as if he were paging through an old travel guide. He wondered if he would ever smell the salty wind near the crystal-green bluffs of Mire Headland, or gaze at the red skyline as dusk faded into blackness, making room for a congregation of beaming stars. The seer he had met before he came to Verinda had peered into his mind and showed him what she said was his future. He had seen the moments before his death, in which he was holding an archaic dagger.

A gust of wind brushed over him. The wind sifted through his hair, tossing strands of brown into his mouth. He unconsciously moved them away. Despite the howling current, being topside was almost peaceful. The wind seemed to be his only companion at the moment. There was a blissful nothingness here. He wondered why he didn’t do this more often. He had very few peaceful moments as of late, and he could tell this moment was about to be shattered. A familiar scent permeated his nostrils—a scent of a singular creature that often inhabited corrupted lands. Cahan hoped there would only be one of them.

He hunched down and eased his way across the deck. He drew his basledar dagger from the back of his belt and considered wielding his sword, but decided it would be hard to use with the gusting winds pushing against his every movement. He often felt there was a metaphorical wind determined to impede him, a darkness within him that could not be sated.

He came to the edge of the railing and made sure that he had the proper footing. He did not want to fall into one of the passenger reliefs or collide against a spellcraft-infused cannon turret. He winced at the shrill whistling sound of the creature’s tymbal organ. He despised insects¾even the human-like ones in Protos.

Cahan carefully lay flat on his stomach. The wind whistled harshly as it brushed over the top of his dragon-bone armor. The peace he had felt earlier had vanished as disgust slowly scratched its way into his mind, ripping and tearing at him. All that remained was a mixture of anxiety and the overwhelming urge to kill the creature festering on the side of the airship. He figured the Amalgam had driven these insects out of the corrupted forest and forced an early migration. This one was probably left behind, or too injured to join the rest of the swarm. Just as likely, it was about to enter its metamorphosis.

Cahan peered over the edge. He saw large, membranous wings flapping in the wind with branching trails of hideous blue veins just beneath the surface. The creature suddenly shifted, and revealed its midsection of translucent, smooth scales with occasional black spots that almost looked like charred dermis. Its large, globular eyes had thousands of cylindrical hairs protruding from them. Cahan did not like the look of the creature’s long, rust-colored mandibles. They looked like hunting daggers with serrated edges.

Cahan watched in horror as the creature butted its head against the portside of the vessel. Yellowish insect blood oozed down the larboard. The sharp odor of an acidic substance wafted upward¾a result of using its head as a battering ram. It was attempting to burrow its way in by secreting an acidic gas that was normally expelled when the creature was attacked. This “bone skipper” must have scented fetid flesh somewhere, unless the corruption of these lands had somehow driven it from hunting decomposing flesh to that of the living. The corrupted lands and the insects were likely vying for the same food source.

He had to do something quickly. He did not want to get a bunch of his men out here fighting this creature and risking casualties before the mission had even started. At best, it would be an unwelcome distraction at a time when they needed to keep their focus on what was to come. He looked to the cannon turrets mounted near him and got an idea. Cahan silently sheathed his dagger. The cannons were not linked to the secondary energy chamber at the moment, so they could not be fired. A quick solution was needed.

He waited a few agonizing moments for the creature to bash its head again. He heard only metal scraping and the subtle stirring of the tymbal organ. It was like the last bit of air being pushed out of the bellows of chanter pipes. The creature hissed violently before it once more bashed its head against the vessel. A faint vibration skittered through the cold alloy beneath Cahan’s body. Cahan climbed down to a recess on the portside—uncomfortably close to the creature—barely avoiding detection. Only a few feet of metal separated Cahan from the bone skipper. He heard the insect buzzing once more, and its acidic fumes filled his nostrils. He tightly clamped his hand to his mouth to stave off a coughing fit. He wasn’t sure how much more punishment the ship could take.

Just outside the recess was the copper coil that stemmed from the energy chamber and carried its raw power to the cannon turret mounted on the deck. To use the cannon, Cahan would have to move the coil, which was normally done via a switch inside on the lowermost deck, to the tubing junction and complete the pathway that led to the cannon’s spellcraft receptor. Since this was not an aerial combat mission, the pathway was switched off to avoid draining the chamber.

Cahan heard the tymbal organ of the creature stir once more and the accompanying hideous shrill which filled him with dread. He was hesitant to stick his hand out there. He didn’t want the creature to slice it off with its pincers. Cahan quickly swatted his hand at the coil, only to feel it partially move. He realized that he would have to hang halfway out of the recess and use more elbow grease than a quick swipe would allow. He knew full well that the bone skipper would see him. He would have to move quickly to the cannon and get a shot off. It would be a race between the two of them.

The flapping sound of the bone skipper’s membranous, vein-filled wings assaulted his ears. He thought about the moment of peace the creature had stolen. He closed his eyes, focused on the whipping wind, and wondered if the death vision he had seen was wrong. He asked himself if this creature was moments away from feasting on his flesh. That would definitely make the seer wrong.

With his eyes still shut tight, Cahan grabbed some nearby piping so that he could swing his body over and move the coil to the junction. He bit his bottom lip and slowly opened his eyes. A flash of his death vision again invaded his consciousness. He shook his head to rid himself of the seer’s supposed truth. Quickly, Cahan flung his body and reached for the coil. Insect shrieking immediately burst from the direction of the bone skipper, but he could not see if it was moving toward him. He felt as though it was almost on his back as shivers shot up his spine.

Cahan slid the coil to the junction just as the bone skipper’s dagger-like pincer scraped against his armor.

“Shit!” Cahan screamed.

 

Origin: The Nameless Celestial by Aaron R. Allen

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