Underground Ring: Book 1, page 1
M. M. Reid
Copyright 2012 M. M. Reid.
All rights reserved.
Please give credit where credit is due.
Eternal gratitude to my family and friends.
Special thank you to two ladies:
Marsha Newbery: Without you, I would have never gone down the path to becoming the best writer I can be. Your knowledge in marketing and story editing has been invaluable. This project would not have been the same without your friendship or your advice.
Katherine Wilson: You’ve been an amazing editor and a great friend. Without your help, I would still have two dimensional characters and be lost in my wordy writing. My improvement has come from your unbending honesty and your unwillingness to accept anything less than my 110%.
Cover artwork by Don Michael, Jr. using a painting he created titled "Precipice." Don is a professional artist living in Las Vegas, NV. You can see more of his work at www.donmichaeljr.com.
And finally, a super special thank you to my friend Caffeine.
Table of contents
One day, I would become the greatest monster the world had ever seen. I would be the one standing and watching as flames levelled the country’s largest city. But it wasn’t always like this. No, my first memories from when I was human were not of cities, cars, or technology, but of trees, rivers, and the only person I knew until my mid-teens—my father.
My youth was spent tucked away in a vast forest, away from civilization and the reach of the modern world. It felt as though there was some sort of magic in the forest, untouched by humans with the exception of my father and myself. I never knew my mother for she disappeared shortly after bringing me into the world, leaving me with a man I would never truly know. We lived in a single room cabin that was crafted by Father years before. The shed was ramshackle and made of fallen trees bound by small tethers of bark and animal hair. Inside lay only our two cots of animal fur, which helped to soften the hard, rippled floor. With no window to speak of, it was often dark inside except the shining rays of sunlight that crept through the cracks in the roof during the day.
I followed the same routine, day in and day out. While I remained at the cabin, my father would disappear into the forest. My only task would be to gather any food I could forage and try to amuse myself for long stretches at a time. I would pass the long hours, stick in hand, patrolling the campsite and swinging my stick about like it were a sword—saving the world by slaying one imaginary monster at a time. It would often be amongst the swinging that a rabbit or deer would wander into the campsite. Maybe I was funny to watch, often tripping over my long legs that I hadn’t quite grown into yet.
At sunset, Father would return with wild game for our dinner, sweat dripping off his bronzed skin. My father was an imposing man and he towered over me even though I was already tall for 15. His limbs were thick and strong, but at the same time nimble and flexible. His face was rugged, filled with scars and indentations, reminders of a violent past I knew nothing about. A thick goatee grew wildly around his small mouth. Other than the facial hair and scars, I looked very much like my father. I was tall and strong, with black hair that looked like it was under the permanent effects of static electricity. My face and body were masculine, with a thick jaw and broad, muscular shoulders.
Starting at dusk, we would build a small fire and simply sit on the ground, eating whatever food my father brought home that day. Often he would regale me with stories about the technology of the outside world. The cars, the lights without fire, the same damn stories over and over. I would stare at him starry-eyed, hoping that one day I would be able to actually experience all the wonderful things that were told to me. Occasionally, Father reluctantly spoke of my mother, assuring me that the only thing I needed to know was that I should be proud to be her son. If I pressed the topic, or something regarding anything beyond the forest, my father would quickly become bristled and aggravated, often ignoring me for hours at time. Recently, Father had begun to look at me strangely, as if he were waiting for me to burst into flames or start dancing. And I was just as frustrated with our daily routine—it was about time to forge my own destiny!
When I reached the age of 15, I had had enough. I planned to follow Father and find out what he was doing alone all day in the forest. The day had just begun, the dawning sun danced, lighting the world around me which glistened under the fresh dew. Sitting uncomfortably outside, I pretended not to notice when Father arose from his short slumber, his olive skin soaking up the rays of the reborn sun. I nonchalantly poked at the nuts that I had gathered in the dark a few hours prior. The fatigue from the very early morning faded instantly as I realized what my father had dangling from his hips when he passed: a sword. It was archaic in make, with a pale wooden handle etched with ancient runes. A thin leather casing suppressed the great weapon, giving the battle-tested steel a rejuvenated look. Other than its beauty, I knew the blade only by its name: Balmung. It was a rare occasion when my father brought his sword out with him. I could count the number of times on one hand. No words were exchanged as my father swept by me, not even gracing me with so much as a look. As he reached the forest, he shifted, glancing just enough over his shoulder to look at me, then he entered the bush, vanishing before my eyes. My breakfast scattered on the ground as I was off in a flash, determined that I would find him. Branches whipped and stung my skin like insects, and roots coiled around my ankles as the distance between my father and I became greater.
“Father,” I shouted to him, between gasps of breath. “Father! Wait!”
If he had heard me, there was no sign of it as he disappeared out of sight. Why wasn’t he stopping? What the hell was wrong with him? The ground suddenly gave way from under me as the root from one of the trees audibly ripped from the dense, caked dirt. Before I knew it, I had tripped and fallen full-force into a tree that lay perilously across a deep ravine. I had passed over the ravine many times in my ventures into the wilderness. During the spring, this ravine would become a small river, allowing for fun afternoons of swimming, but today it was dry with pointy rocks at the bottom that waited to accept my descent. My chest slammed hard into the fallen tree and the sound of sharp exhalation exited my lungs. My fingers grasped uselessly as the wet moss and bark disintegrated against my desperate attempts to keep from plunging into the stones below. The tree bucked and bowed under me like a bull, until I could hold on no longer. I fell. The darkness took me instantly as my head slammed into the rocks below.
The rain made me regain my senses. I was lying face down, the tree that I had landed on was now across my back. The weight pinned my shoulder blades to the rocks, as I coughed water from my lungs. Perhaps it was because I had been unconscious, or maybe it was the shock from the fall, but the pain did not come all at once. The ravine was now beginning to fill as it had seasons before. I had to tilt my chin up to avoid drowning, as my breath came in shallow, ragged gasps. When I looked up, that is when the pain began. Sharp jolts of electricity went up my spine and down my legs. I gasped in pain.
“Help!” My voice, muffled from the rain falling, was followed by an eerie silence that plunged my heart into chaos. I pushed hard against the ground, but nothing budged as I squirmed to free my numbed body. The gravity of the situation began to sink in. I could not move. My father had no idea where I was and it was only a matter of time before I was enveloped by the flood gathering about me. I began to panic.
“Father,” I screamed. “Help me!”
My mind was racing as I raked at the rocks in front of me. I attempted to find some sort of hold, but only pulled more stones around me, fortifying my would-be grave. Thunder began to roar as the rain became more and more intense.
My heart was now drumming in my ears. My legs could barely move. Tears started to flow as I screamed to the only person who knew of my existence. I pushed and pushed, and then finally collapsed into the rocks. The water was now up to my chin as I struggled to arch my back and avoid the chilled water. I was going to die here. That thought kept repeating in my mind. A strange calm struck me, as if I had used all my strength struggling or some sort of hypnotist was putting me to sleep. If the crackling from the brush beyond me hadn’t caught my attention, I might have passed out from the shock that was overtaking my body. My frantic escape attempts began again, as the sound came closer and closer.
The water gushed around me as my father landed in the ravine next to me.
“Thank you!” I praised the heavens, staring up at the typical emotionless mask of my father’s face. “Lift this thing off of me.”
The man did not move. He merely knelt down in front of me, as if he were waiting for me just to stand and brush myself off. Thunder rolled as I reached for him, hoping he would grab on to pull me free, but he stayed just out of reach. My father glanced down at my hand, a look of anticipation dancing across his face. What the hell was he waiting for?
“Father, please?” I begged, my voice shaking with panic. “Please!”
Silence was his response. He did not budge, staring at me with listless eyes. The water began to rise above my eyes as the world’s shape became blurred with water. My struggle was a dance between life and death. My heart beat faster as death matched my tempo. Above the shimmering surface, my father, the man who helped birth me, turned and began to walk slowly away into the rain.
At first my brain didn’t register what I was seeing. Was my father really going to leave me under this tree alone? I was his only son—his only living family—how could he do that to me? It was in that moment that something in me broke. Something I would never get back. Rage began to bubble within me. Did he not care if I hated him? Did he not care if I drowned before his very eyes?
“Don’t walk away from me!” The voice came from my mind and projected into my father’s, my internal authority ringing out like a bell.
The man froze in his tracks as if he had no choice but to obey.
My rage began to boil and froth as if it were alive. Heat burned in my chest and grew stronger with each passing moment. I no longer felt the pull of death or the numbness in my feet. It now felt like my mortal vessel could no longer contain the power within me, as the fury began to ooze from my skin like flames from a fire. I could not see this power, but I could feel it floating invisibly about me. The tree across my back shifted upwards, as I slowly pushed the ground away.
“Concentrate, Augrais.” My father said, excitement emanating from each word. “Feel the Vitae empower your body.”
A low, guttural growl escaped my throat as my humanity began to fade to the back of my mind. This fire, this magic—whatever it was—gave me strength. It was a strength I intended to use. The tree groaned and shuddered as it slowly ascended. I was no longer focusing on the pain, the heavy weight, or my fear. I centred all of my fury right at that bastard known as my father. The tree crunched and splashed behind me, for I was now standing, the flames spinning about me like a turbine of energy and might.
“My son, you have finally awakened the Vitae within you!” my father said, his voice no longer mechanical but actually happy.
I did not share my father’s joy. No, I was going to rip him to shreds. The ground beneath me became a blur as I cleared 20 metres in only three strides and was upon him. A roar escaped my throat as my outstretched fingers made him understand the ire within me. I staggered forward as my father stepped back, just out of my grasp. A look of horror replaced his earlier joy as I breathed heavily, saliva and water dripping from my lips, blood pounding in my ears.
“Stop it, Augrais!” The man put his hands up in a gesture of peace, as the rain came down harder and harder. “Control the Fire within you.”
I could no longer hear him. My grinding teeth felt like steel as I attacked again, swinging hard at his face. Again, I met nothing but air as my father leapt effortlessly onto a nearby ledge.
“Calm down,” my father pleaded, as he realized better than I did what was happening. “Find your humanity. Please, son.”
No words could reach me now. I couldn’t be stopped, not after what he did to me. I felt my entire being constricting to flow in one direction. I was ready to explode like fire-heated glass. A banshee cry erupted from my lips as I lost myself and the monster came forth. With one fluid motion, my entire body rocketed through the air and struck my father, causing a man at least two times my size to fly backwards and smash hard against a tree, the bark exploding upon impact. He hovered for a moment, head bowed, eyes closed, before slowly sliding down the trunk, the crackling of wood the symphony of his descent.
It was over just as quickly as it had started. I fell onto one knee, gasping for breath—the flames and power that vivified me now gone. The shattered body of my father lay slumped against the tree. The first thought that crossed my fatigued mind was that I had killed him.
“Father?” I slurred, the events of what had just occurred flashing through my mind. “Are you OK?”
He did not move as the rain came down harder and lightning illuminated his darkened face.
I collapsed in front of him. “Father!” I yelled, shaking his cold body.
His eyes suddenly shot open as my hand touched his shoulder. And, without warning, I suddenly found myself dangling helpless, my father’s hand a vice grip squeezing my throat against the very tree I had knocked him into.
“I had no idea you would be this powerful,” he growled, his strong fingers digging my throat. “This is why we kept you from the world. If I don’t stop you now…”
The pressure of his hand was becoming so great that I could hear the blood pumping in my ears. “I’m sorry, Father.” I choked, my eyes meeting his. “Please just help me understand. Help me not do that again.”
I could see his internal battle raging as he gritted his teeth. The world around me began to darken as I began to slip away.
“Please?” I whispered.
I was dropped to the ground, choking and gulping down oxygen. My father stood a few metres away along the growing river, watching as the rain droplets filled the ravine we had been in a few minutes ago.
I slowly got to my feet and took his side. My father said nothing and stared into the water below, the submerged fallen tree the only reminder of what had transpired.
“I’m sorry,” I said after a long silence, my voice hoarse and weak. “I’ll never do that again.”
“Then you will do what I say, when I say it.” My father said, not taking his eyes off of the ravine.
“Swear it.” He was shaking.
We stood there in silence once again, just staring as the ravine became a river.
My father chuckled to himself.
“What is it?”
“There is always hope,” he finally said, as if repeating something he had heard many times. “Always hope.”
In the year that followed, my training never stopped. I continued day and night, night and day. My body had become much larger, strapped with tight and powerful muscle. I was
We were rock climbing one day when I started to actually harness this invisible power inside me at will. There were no ropes or carabiners during this climb, just free climbing all the way to the top of a 30 metre sheer rock face that did a vertical drop to the ground below, vegetation growing aggressively out of the cracks and foot holds. My father had already completed his ascent and was sitting above me as I hung off of the mountain, victory just a few metres away. Father often liked to teach me lessons as I was struggling to complete a task. His head and shoulders were the only things visible as he spoke.
“Vitae is the life that exists in all things. It is in you, in the animals, in the very rock that you are trying to grasp.”
His preaching fell on deaf ears as I glanced down at the rocks below. My vision blurred, but fear gave my muscles an extra boost. My father nattered on as I attempted to kick and grind my foot into some sort of hold in the rock.
“To control it you must believe. To understand it, you must know it and yourself. You must—are you listening to me?”
“No,” I grunted, becoming more frustrated by the second as there was no hold within reach. “Just a tad more concerned about falling to the little pointy rocks at the bottom.”