Enjoy the sneak peek of Dream: Part 2 of Mental Damnation.
Available September 13th, 2017.
An Era Ends
Sitting cross-legged, the motionless man exhaled steadily from his dry mouth. Eyes closed, he gradually followed the action with an inhale. His eyes remained shut, his full concentration on his breathing cycle. He ignored the cool floor and the subtle deep rumbling ambience that echoed throughout the chamber. His goal was to keep his mind as empty as possible.
Silence, he thought to himself. The man’s bottom eyelid twitched slightly, realizing that a word had entered his mind. No thoughts, he thought. Wait!
“Damn it,” he muttered to himself. His eyes slowly peeled open as he came to the realization that he had broken his moment of bliss. The concentration he’d invested into clearing his head of thoughts was now gone. A surge of frustration coursed through his veins: the slight burning sensation of anger. The same anger he’d concentrated on suppressing over his years of training as a paladin—a warrior of the light.
As descendants of a holy bloodline known as paladins, his kind had abilities that matched the angels. The power given to the paladins was from another era; an era when God believed man was worthy of such gifts. Paladins had to meditate daily to retain a connection with their lord, heightening the holy ability fused to their physical being.
When one could not focus on their meditation, it was more than frustrating.
The man scanned the surrounding space, a chamber that served as the primary meditation area in the Temple of Zeal. Large marble columns stretched from floor to ceiling in the four corners of the square room, supporting the intricately carved illustrations of winged men above. The flooring had three circular designs overlapping one another painted in the centre where he sat. He gazed straight toward the stained-glass windows filled with varying shades of beige, yellow, and red. The sun beamed into the chamber and tinted the area with the hue of the glass.
Through all my years in the temple, even with the holy gifts blessed upon me by our lord, I still can’t master something as simple as meditation. He shook his head and stood, staring directly at the centre stained-glass piece: an image of a shirtless man with a crown of thorns piercing into his head.
Despite following the practices of my mentors and the words of God, the Creator . . . the man thought to himself while marching out of the chamber. He walked beyond the circular painting toward two large wooden doors reinforced with black painted steel. He pushed the handle plates open with one hand on each door, moving them aside so he could enter the hallway beyond: a long, narrow passage with marble sculptures lining either side.
If only the temple’s spiritual training came as easy as using a weapon, he thought. Physical tasks were something the man had always preferred. Using his mind to master his consciousness seemed to be a waste of time. He had his foundational beliefs and didn’t understand the need to meditate to find anything more.
“Brother Zalphium.” A masculine voice came from down the hall. Zalphium looked up; a man was marching toward him, clad in the same matching gold-plated armour that he himself wore.
“Brother Franch.” Zalphium returned the greeting with a nod. The two of them converged, stopping merely a foot apart.
“I hope you were able to come to some sort of epiphany through your meditation,” said Franch.
“Unfortunately, no. I find my mind is unable to quiet itself enough to find what it needs to. Especially in a time like this.”
Franch brushed his red beard with his hand and sighed. “I am sorry to hear that.”
“The blade is something that I identify with far easier than delving into a mental foundation that is already seamless. It’s essentially running my mind around in circles.”
“You raise a good point. Keep in mind, though: unless you challenge your mindset, you will never broaden your consciousness. We may already out-live any normal man by several centuries, but that doesn’t mean you can brush aside any training of wisdom.”
“Yes, as our mentors have told us,” said Zalphium. “I feel it serves no purpose to me, though. I am far better off perfecting my combat skills so I can further serve the Paladins of Zeal on the front lines, spreading the word of God and cleansing the world of Dega’Mostikas’ evil.”
“If meditating is difficult at a time like this, that is precisely why you need to meditate. Eliminate your weaknesses. You must seek answers about why you remain so disturbed by it.”
Zalphium folded his arms. “Perhaps because all we did during the Drac Age was fight. I think that is all I know.”
“You’re not a soldier, Zalphium. You’re a paladin. The days of battling the draconem with swords and blood are over.”
“I’m not a soldier anymore, but I was. It becomes difficult to remove that mindset from one’s head. During the war, we had to be certain of who we were when fighting those monsters.”
“Hence why you need to meditate,” said Franch. “Face the inner demons that trouble your thoughts so they do not corrupt you.”
“You know what troubles me? Even through all the struggles we went through during the Drac Age, ending their tyranny and bringing the world out of the darkest era it has ever seen, we are still following the draconem’s steps in every way.”
“Are you referring to the vazelead exile? You do recall Saule found evidence of the reptilian people serving the last Drac Lord, Karazickle? They are not worthy of being anywhere in the charted world.”
“I know this, but is exile to the underworld really necessary?”
Franch extended his hand while turning back the way he came. “Walk with me, brother.”
The two began to move farther down the hall, strolling side by side while passing numerous closed doors on each side of the path.
Franch kept his hand behind his back and sighed. “I understand what you are proposing: that our actions mimic the harsh tyranny of the Drac Lords. Their goal was to eliminate all other life. I disagree that we are following their ways. We are only exiling the vazelead people to the underworld, not annihilating them.”
“How is exile to that harsh environment any different? You know the stories as well as I do—the heat, the winds, and the utter darkness. We both know that Saule and the Council of Just chose the underworld because they knew of its conditions, how it mutates people into fiends. No one comes out of there the same. There is something otherworldly down there.”
“The vazelead people will never return from underworld, so we do not have to worry about what they will become from the metamorphosis fumes in the air. We are preparing a banishment ritual.”
Zalphium’s eyes widened. A Prayer of Power. “But that will keep them shackled there for eternity!”
“Yes. The vazelead people are not like us; they pose a threat that must be addressed. You cannot deny that.”
“Perhaps they are an opposition, but I do not believe that this is morally any different than the actions of the Drac Lords. Do you really think God approves such actions?”
Franch shrugged. “We tried to convert the vazelead people when we enslaved them decades ago. Now that they are free, they retain little of what we taught them about the civilized world. They’re animals, not human.”
The two pushed open a set of wooden doors leading out onto a stone balcony that extended along the outer wall of the marble temple. Beyond the balcony’s cylindrical stone railings was a vast and steep mountain-scape, covered in snow and dark charcoal rocks. The sun overlooked the clear blue sky, shining down on the ice and reflecting a bright white light directly at the temple. A single dirt path in the distance led to the base of the Temple of Zeal, directly below where Zalphium and Franch stood.
I never tire of the view of Mount Kuzuchi, Zalphium thought briefly. Through the debate with his comrade, the mountain-view provided him a moment of peace.
Franch extended his hand. “The Council of Just wills the banishment of the vazelead people, and we must obey. They led us out of the Drac Age and are responsible for ensuring such a threat never arises again.”
“They also traded for witchcraft from the nymph to do so.”
“The politics with the kingdoms and nymphs is a whole other discussion. Regardless of the technicalities, you need not question the will of the Council of Just.” Franch grinned. “You were the one telling me that you don’t want to challenge your intellect, so why question clear instructions?”
Zalphium frowned. “I don’t want to challenge my mind’s moral foundation—not my critical thinking. This action does not follow the Paladins of Zeal code of morality that the Creator has given us. I may have followed orders without question during the Drac Age, but now that the war is over I do not agree with the Council of Just’s choices. We would be better off sending out missionaries once more to convert the vazelead people to the light.”
“Not if they are serving the Drac Lord Karazickle. If this is the case, they have chosen their side and we must take the opportunity to prevent another war.”
“With a banishment to the underworld? It’s practically sending them down to Dega’Mostikas’ Triangle!”
Franch shrugged. “It is a devilish landscape, I will agree with that. Not that I’ve seen it personally.”
“Subjecting them to the mutation is murdering them.”
“The Council of Just is wise, as is Saule, who was chosen to lead the council. They would have thought about conversion as well. We simply cannot take the any chances.”
The two continued to walk on the balcony, following it along the outer rim of the temple. Franch kept his gaze to the floor as Zalphium stared out at the mountains.
Zalphium brushed his dirty blond hair from his face and looked over to his comrade. “Do these questions ever haunt your mind, Brother Franch?”
“No. I put my trust in Saule’s leadership.”
“How did he discover this knowledge about Karazickle and the vazelead people, though?” asked Zalphium. “Where is the proof? I’ve never seen a vazelead champion the Drac Lord’s winged-moon symbol.”
“True, but they spoke a weak form of Draconic before we discovered them. There’s one link.”
“How do we know Saule’s sources regarding Karazickle are credible?”
Franch stopped in his tracks and turned to face Zalphium. “I am your temple brother, and you’re lucky I am also your friend. That kind of talk amongst the other paladins would be met with rehabilitation.”
“I know.” Zalphium folded his arms. “That is why I am asking you. I know you are on my side.”
“To answer you, no we do not. I don’t think anyone knows how he found that information.”
“That is what makes me sceptical of the whole thing. Which is also why I do not want to be a part of it.”
“It’s already in the process as we speak. From what I heard, the last tribe was gathered at the base of Mount Kuzuchi, near Kuzuchi Forest. The rest of the paladins in the temple will be joining our brothers and the Knight’s Union at the top of the mountain.”
“I will pass.”
“This will not look good to the others, Zalphium. You should include yourself in the ritual. We need all the manpower we have to channel the banishment prayer.”
“I have full faith that our brothers are capable of finishing it on their own. I cannot fully invest in something that I do not believe in.” Zalphium gestured to the far end of the temple, where they were headed. “I’d rather practice my agility in the chamber of endurance.”
“That will be there any other day.”
“I am sorry, brother. I cannot join you. I must stick to my beliefs.”
Franch stopped in his tracks and nodded. “You are bold, Zalphium. I admire that greatly—but it makes you a fool at times.”
“As I said, I have my core principles from God. I will not stray from them. I believe this banishment is against everything we stand for.”
Franch smiled. “As any paladin must do. It is why we were blessed with divine powers from the Father.”
Zalphium placed his hand on Franch’s shoulder. “Indeed.”
Franch patted his brother’s arm. “I must prepare with the others. We leave on horseback within the hour.”
“Go now. I will see you when you return.”
The two bowed before each other and parted ways, Zalphium continuing to the chamber of endurance and Franch returning to the doorway they’d come through.
He sees my view but doesn’t understand it, Zalphium thought to himself while marching down the pathway. His hands were clenched. The discussion had upset him, knowing that he could not convince his friend of the error of their ways. If not Franch, he would be unable to convince any of the Paladins of Zeal that he was right. And by not participating in the vazelead people’s banishment, he would prove himself to be an outcast amongst his own kind.
I’ll be a reject. The thought made him sick. He simply did not understand how they could not see what he saw.
Thank you for reading!
Dream: Part 2 of Mental Damnation is available September 13th, 2017
If you’re in Edmonton on this day, join us for the live reading and launch event.