Most people found young Galen’s irrepressible imagination annoying, but his mother delighted in it. Every night, they would escape their bleak lives into stories of bravery and magic. But then one evening, Galen’s mother just walked out the door and disappeared into the forest.
Now, six years later, an irresistible pull awakens in Galen and he, too, leaves home. His path leads to an ancient, forbidden temple, where the gods of Order locked Chaos away long ago. For centuries, Chaos has called anyone with an affinity—storytellers, artists, visionaries—waiting for the one who will free it. Most perish and leave their bones behind to decorate the vault.
Horace, an orphaned bully who has spent his life channeling his creativity into tormenting others, also hears the call. Convinced Chaos can give him the power to reshape the world, he would do anything, sacrifice anyone, to free it. Galen must use his unique imagination—helped by an enigmatic character from his mother’s stories—to stop Horace before he can open the vault and possibly unmake reality.
The Child of Chaos is my debut young-adult fantasy novel. It is being published by Rhetoric Askew in the Spring of 2020.
Since childhood, I’ve devoured fantasy and science-fiction novels. When I joined Legend Entertainment, I was lucky enough to design games based on some of my favorite literary properties like the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and the Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.
In those games, I told new stories in familiar worlds. Now, I’m introducing my own original fantasy tale in a world you won’t soon forget.
What follows is the prologue for the Child of Chaos.
“Why isn’t there a path?” Lorre wondered aloud. “Every temple should have a path.”
Most people dream of the Longing awakening inside them, leading them to their god’s temple, and changing their lives forever—but Lorre was not most people and nothing about this journey felt right.
For weeks, the Longing pulled Lorre forward, like an invisible thread hooked into her brain. This latest leg of her trip would have been a challenging hike on the best of days, but Lorre found herself clawing through a never-ending forest of dense brambles and broad trees during the dead of night, wearing a light travel cloak that the rain had soaked through hours ago.
As she pushed aside a branch, yet another thorn clutched at her crude, twine bracelet. Lorre rolled her eyes, grunted in frustration, and stopped to free her wrist. She winced as the thorn added a scratch to her collection.
Your fate awaits, whispered a voice in her head. You’re on the right track. How can a bit of string hold you back?
“Keep quiet,” she said as if someone could hear. “I’m not leaving it behind.” The woven strands of rose twine were a nameday gift from her daughter Myra, and the bracelet kept her twins in mind. She resented leaving them alone for so long.
Through the curtain of brambles, Lorre glimpsed a flickering light. She gasped with excitement, pushed through the remaining bushes, and arrived at a hill wall, steep and overgrown with vines and scrub. Before her was a grotto, twice her height, blocked by a thick iron door cut with narrow, vertical slits that showed the darkness beyond. A chain with links as big as her fists hung from the handles attached to an open padlock. A sturdy iron brazier stood on either side. Flames danced in the bowls, unaffected by the rain. They lit the door with a sickly, deep orange glow, not so much warm and welcoming as hot and unnatural.
Lorre’s eyebrows arched up. “This is a temple? I can’t imagine that whatever god owns this would be happy with it.”
The door is open and your way is clear, answered the voice. Don’t get distracted when your goal’s so near.
The slatted door swung ajar with a slight effort, revealing no mere cave; the smooth walls had been painstakingly excavated from the hill and then supported by regularly spaced columns.
Inside the entrance, Lorre discovered four dry torches lying on a shelf carved into the wall. She hefted one, then reached out and stuck its tip into a brazier. The torch caught, but the unnatural flame unsettled her. She tried to hold it as far away as possible.
As Lorre walked, the pounding of the rain did not fade behind her. Ahead, on both sides of the tunnel, the walls curved out into alcoves. Each was home to a huge statue carved from alabaster. Chimneys above these statues opened to the sky. While Lorre suspected that the openings were intended to bathe the statues in sunlight, this night, they doused them in rain.
The first statue depicted a richly-dressed ten-foot-tall man, standing with one hand raised as if delivering a speech. “Is that the god of Drama?” Lorre mused. “But his temple is far from here.”
On the other side, a hunched stone woman stared with huge eyes. She was dressed simply and carried an empty basket. “I definitely was not called here for Nihility.” And indeed, neither statue was her goal. The Longing pulled her deeper into the dark hallway.
In the next pair of alcoves, an unfamiliar man on the right contemplated a globe, and on the left, an exquisite, stately woman wore a crown of roses. Lorre recognized her as the goddess of Beauty.
The strange cave presented statue after statue, no two alike. Lorre did not know how many gods there were, but there was supposed to be a different god for each of the countless aspects of Order. Were all of them here? She had walked so far that she could no longer see the braziers at the entrance, and the procession of statues did not end.
Why had the Longing brought her here? What temple would contain a collection like this?
As she traveled deeper into the tunnel, the gods grew in popularity and power. She was happy to identify bosomy Charity’s ever-full bowl of plenty and welcoming smile, but the next was the twisted body and haunting expression of Despair. Hurrying by, she almost tripped on a bone lying on the ground.
One touch told Lorre that the bone hadn’t been carved. This was a human leg bone, old and crumbling, but not nearly as ancient as the cave. The implications made her pause, but the Longing pushed her to continue on.
Another bone, then another: a skull, an arm, a pile of ribs. These were newer, more intact, than those she had passed. She walked by the statue of War: a tall, muscular man with a broad shield strapped to one arm, holding a long spear with both hands. War faced the statue of Law in the opposite alcove, a proud bearded man holding a scroll in one hand and a sword in the other. Bones littered the floor.
“I must be getting close to the end,” she whispered. “How many gods are more powerful than Law and War?”
“Not many,” an answer floated from deeper in the tunnel. “I will show you.”
Braziers, matching those outside the entrance, flared up and cast their orange malevolence throughout the tunnel. At first, the light blinded Lorre. She covered her eyes with her free hand and stepped back. “Who’s there?”
“Sorry if I frightened you. Not to worry. I’m here to help.”
As Lorre’s eyes adjusted to the strange orange light, she made out a handsome, dark-haired man of middle years, dressed in a long black robe and standing with his hand outstretched. Once she met his gaze, Lorre could not look away from his gray eyes and the haunting smile that played upon his lips. For some reason, she could not bring herself to take his hand.
The man shrugged and continued, “It’s natural to be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of the gods of Order. There are so many. Too many, yes? Even the smallest god gets a share of the tithe. Do they deserve it? Do they contribute? How those lesser gods attract any priests at all, it’s a mystery.”
“Who are you?” Lorre asked. “What is this place? Why did the Longing bring me here?”
“Ah, of course! The Longing.” If a smile could be weaponized, this man had mastered the art. “Forgive me, but I wasn’t sure if you felt it. Those called here aren’t usually as… chatty as you. I would enjoy a conversation for a change. You didn’t, by chance, find something on your journey? Something that softens the Longing enough for you to keep your wits?”
Out of reflex, Lorre’s hand clutched her pocket. She had discovered something on her way here, but she wasn’t about to describe it to this man who made the hairs on the back of her neck rise. “Please, answer my questions first.”
“All right. We’ll come back to whatever’s in your pocket then. So, you wish to know who I am? I’m the guardian of this place. We call it the vault. I come when I’m needed. But most days, I serve as a high priest in my own temple, far from here.”
“Of what god?” asked Lorre, afraid of the answer.
“It should be apparent, yes?” The man smiled again and gestured to his robe. “Evil, naturally. You think Good would have the backbone to do what’s necessary? So, the job is left to me: high priest Sar Kooris.”
Lorre’s heart skipped a beat. “But why? What do you do here?”
The man in black kicked a bone. “You don’t really want the answer to that. Not yet. We’re not done talking. Don’t you want to know the real purpose of this place? And what brought you here?”
Kooris grinned took a dramatic step to the side, revealing the end of the hallway, dominated by a carving of two dual-headed arrows crossing each other. The Longing flared up, focusing Lorre’s attention on that carving. It was at once both the most meaningful and mystifying sight of her life.
“Do you know this symbol? That is Chaos! We keep it locked away here in the vault, safe. Well, the gods do. I just greet those that Chaos calls to free it.”
“Chaos is real? And it’s here?” Lorre was stunned. No priest anywhere would ever admit Chaos existed, but this one seemed to enjoy discussing it.
“Not Chaos exactly. Chaos’ Gift rather. Each temple holds a Gift from its god. That’s what your Longing is attracted to. Chaos’ Gift, right behind that wall, is what has been calling you.
“It’s not like a Gift of Order, though. It could be that this single Gift is as powerful as all of Order’s combined. Who knows what it would do if it were free? Maybe it starts a new religion for everyone? Can you imagine hordes of faithless called to what could possibly be the most powerful religion, since Chaos is not fragmented into aspects like Order? Can you imagine the unwashed faithless running things? Anarchy! Everything we’ve built would be at risk.
“Or maybe it just destroys everything. Chaos isn’t bound by the same rules that confine Order. Chaos’ Gift could kill us all. Or turn us into flowers. Who knows? It’s Chaos!”
“You’re worried I’ll free it somehow?” asked Lorre. “I could just walk away, forget I ever saw any of this.”
“You?” Kooris chuckled. “No, I don’t worry about you. Only one man can enter the vault, and I will kill him before he ever gets this close.” He rubbed his chin. “But you could walk away, couldn’t you? Back to your life? To your children, yes?” The high priest gestured to the pink bracelet on Lorre’s wrist. “The Longing wouldn’t stop you. Now we find out why.”
Kooris took a step forward. Lorre matched it with a backwards step. She could not help it. “You have something in your cloak,” he said. “Something magical? Something that suppresses the Longing, yes? Show me.”
Lorre took two big steps backward into a shower of rain. She had stumbled into an alcove and found herself up against the statue of War. She wiped her forehead and blew the water from her lips. Trapped, she reluctantly removed a pouch from her cloak and poured three cubes into her hand. “They’re dice. Just dice. A child’s toy.” As much as she feared the high priest of Evil, even exposing the dice made her palm tremble. Lorre knew about the magic artifacts that most religions gave their priests, and these dice weren’t like any of them. She needed them to control the Longing, but they scared her.
Kooris stopped right outside of the column of water. He looked down at Lorre’s hand. “Dice? Those blank wooden cubes?”
Blank? But the cubes were covered by pictures. Why could Kooris not see the carvings?
“Hand them over,” Kooris commanded. “You’re done with them.”
Was she? She was certain that Kooris would kill her, and what could be worse than that? But to use the dice? By accident, she had rolled them once, then resolved never to do so again. They were dangerous and unpredictable, and they had already caused so much damage. Lorre closed the dice in a clenched fist.
Kooris wagged his finger, as if a small child had disobeyed him. His smile left his eyes untouched. “You stand in freezing cold rain. You refuse a high priest. It’s futile. It’s even pathetic.
“I know you. I’ve seen hundreds like you. No one ever gets inside the vault, and the Longing drives them mad trying. Once I take the cubes, you’ll go mad, too. So I will save you, like I save all of you.”
Lorre shivered in the rain, pushing back as far as she could against War’s shield.
The man reached under the neck of his robe and brought forth a small mirror attached to a chain around his neck. “Have you seen the eyes of someone deep in the Longing? Someone called to Chaos? I have. Many times. And I see the spark of madness in your eyes too. How long could you resist it? How many times would you throw yourself at the vault until your bones break? Look for yourself. There’s nothing in a world of Order for you. Look!”
Her fist grasped the dice so tightly that it shook with the effort. As she struggled, her gaze touched on the small mirror that Kooris held. She saw her pretty face, drawn with lines of fear. She saw her long, sopping black hair poking out from under the cloak’s hood. She saw her terrified stare and her eyes locked with her own. Everything else fell away but that stare. The rain beat in the background, but she barely felt it. Even Kooris became unimportant. The mirror’s silver frame defined her world.
Then Lorre saw her reflected face relax. The fear, the life drained from her eyes. Her jaw dropped open. Lorre did not understand. She came back to her senses in a rush. She struggled. She tried to speak, but every word sounded like a faint echo inside her head, and the reflection of her face moved not a bit. She saw in the corner of her eye that there was nothing outside the limits of the mirror’s frame, only darkness. Lorre was not looking at her reflection anymore; she was the reflection. Whatever was left outside of the mirror was not Lorre. It was the body that Lorre had left behind.
Lorre fixed her eyes on the mirror. She feared that if she looked away, she would lose that last, tenuous link to reality.
The woman’s body convulsed, as Kooris knew it would. No one could live long without their spirit, and hers was tucked safely in Kooris’ favorite relic. Her hand unclenched suddenly and the cubes fell. No matter. Kooris would just collect them from the ground.
The cubes spun wildly in the air, like three tiny tops. The torrent of rain increased, became unbroken streams of water. Every stream hit the ground like an explosion. They rebounded from the impact and went flying in crazy angles, defying gravity and never diminishing. A glistening web of water soon perforated the air.
The high priest of Evil watched with amazement. He could not remember the last time he was actually frightened. Kooris had gathered as much information in Evil’s archives on Chaos as he could find. He could not fail to recognize Chaos at work, even though he had never before witnessed it. This power was something he could not control. This was something that could destroy him.
The streams filled the cavern. It was hard to find pockets of air to breathe. Kooris became light-headed as he struggled for breath. The cave was gone; there was only water. There was no up, no down. Kooris floated in an endless sea. In his panic, Kooris felt the pressure build. His skeleton wanted to collapse, his eyes hurt from pressing into his head. His lungs burned.
Something popped. A moment of razor-sharp clarity, then limitless sensations hit him in a wave. A sword in his belly. The taste of salted plums. The smell of old wood. The shrill sound of a whistle. Acid. Lilacs. Sand. Music. Pleasure, pain, and a sensation that made both words meaningless.
Kooris suddenly stood before the woman’s convulsing body, which leaned against the unwavering support of War’s statue as if nothing had happened. It was over. Kooris knelt and took deep, gasping breaths. Anything else was beyond him. Where had the water gone? Where had it come from? What had he just experienced? In all of his years as the vault’s guardian, he had never suspected the immensity and might of Chaos. The archives fell far short of describing it. Chaos was overwhelming. It was terrifying.
One thing was certain: those “dice” were much more powerful than he originally believed. He crawled forward to find where the cubes had landed and discovered them lying at her feet.
As Kooris reached for them, the cave became much colder. The rain covering the woman and the statue of War began to form a column of ice, freezing from the bottom up. The ice quickly claimed the dice lying on the ground. Kooris tried to grab them, but he almost froze his hand inside. Kooris clutched his palm and stepped back as the column reached the chimney, entirely encasing both the woman’s body and the statue inside the frozen rainwater.
At that moment, the storm finally broke. The rain stopped.
Kooris picked up a leg bone and pounded on the column. The ice did not even chip. He screamed in frustration and stared at the wooden cubes lying in the ice just beyond his reach.
As Kooris stared at the dice, Lorre did the same, peering out from the mirror hanging around Kooris’ neck. Just before the high priest replaced the mirror beneath his robe, before darkness claimed everything, Lorre saw what she had rolled.
An icicle. An hourglass. And a boy.