The Kickstarter began yesterday for the re-release of The Wrong Way Down. After talking with editor/author Lincoln Crisler, I agreed with his suggestion of posting a sample of the story for everyone to see. I feel the prologue is the best place to start because it needs no introduction.
Here is the same as what most literary agents and submission editors read before deciding if they want more. Now you are that agent.
A whirling grapple spun over his head. Higher above and beyond the treetops hovered a narrow sliver of moon. The twirler defined anonymity. He might have been the most common person in the world. Without the patch of dark hair over his chin and framing his mouth, he’d be invisible in daylight amongst any crowd. He liked the beard…so he kept the beard…until he needed to vanish…then the beard would go.
Barely any moonlight lanced through the thick branches. The darkness made him invisible—almost. His clothes were a combination of black and dark brown. He’d have been indiscernible if not for the gray brick wall contrasting his wiry form. Before him stood a church, a remote wilderness temple.
Through a tight-lipped grin he teased his partner, “Watch now, see how a master does this.” Opening pinched fingers, the hook flew.
As his line zipped toward an open window on the second floor, he found himself impressed with how accurate his informant had been about the church’s layout. He’d been given solid descriptions about the temple’s architecture. Richer still were the competent directions to finding such a reclusive monastery. Getting paid would also be this enchanting.
It had taken them two days of travel through dense woods from the nearest town. Ashton was its name––a dirt speck––nothing but a fledgling hamlet bordering on an immense forest. The compass directions through the woods had been magical in their exactness. Void of even a breath of faith, he still recognized the miracle of finding a church this deep in the middle of nowhere. They’d arrived an hour before nightfall and had enough time to survey their target, yet enough darkness to stay hidden.
The flying hook passed through its intended opening, and he exclaimed, “Bullseye! That is how the master does it.”
“Shush!” scolded the woman from darker shadows, using the moon-shade as camouflage. “Jus’ get up there and make sure it’s all right.”
Pulling slowly upon the rope, he felt the hook catch. Yanking a couple of times to ensure the grapple was secure he stepped closer to the wall. With strong shoulder muscles, he pulled against the rope while soft leather boots gripping the course stone. Being as light as he was, he practically walked up the side of the building until reaching the open shuttered window. Head first, he pulled himself inside.
Inside, he struggled to regain his breath. His eyes adjusted to the new depth of darkness, he rose upon his knees, then softly to his feet upon the mosaic tile. There was no light source in the hallway, but to his left a candlelit room.
Just as he’d been told, the prayer room was well lit. He’d also been forewarned that the hallway to the right led to the priests’ bedrooms. ‘Bar the door immediately. The monks at this temple can kill with their hands.’ Those were the exact words he’d been told.
On soft-soled shoes, he crept soundlessly toward the door. As he reached for the door handle, he heard the door latch jiggling from the opposite side. Someone was coming in. Stepping quickly into the corner near the door’s hinge, the thief held his breath as the wooden door squeaked open. If he was discovered, more monks would come. He could not return empty-handed, his employer implied dark consequences if he failed.
Sandaled feet scraped over stone tiles as the monk passed the doorway. White robes illuminated the man in the darkened hallway. The door shut with a subtle nudge and responsive jingle. The priest walked toward the prayer room unaware of the shadow peeling away from deeper shadows.
Reaching under the priest’s arm, the invader cupped his hand over the monk’s mouth and pulled hard, exposing the monk’s neck. Whipping a short knife from its sheath, the thief-to-be plunged the blade through skin and vein, lancing deep into the monk’s windpipe. Warm blood bubbled over the hilt, coating the handle.
The monk blindly struck with a fist over his shoulder as blood streamed down his throat, filling his lungs. Coughing, crimson thickly spewed between the burglar’s fingers. The taller priest lashed and kicked backward in his desperation, but could hit nothing. Cooing softly into the monk’s ear, the killer shushed gently, encouraging the calm acceptance of inevitability. The thrashing slowed as did the choking gasps of the dying man.
The reek of sweat and blood saturated the air. Sanguine warmth trickled down the killer’s elbow, streaming off the tip to spatter across the mosaic tiles. White wool robes absorbed great amounts of blood before the flailing stopped. Belligerently, the resistance ended with one final foot lashing backward, once again failing to find its mark. The bubbling blood slowed as one last breath gurgled up and out.
Holding the limp body, the killer was surprised by the extra weight. Shaking his head, he pressed the body into a dark shadow and listened carefully. His own heartbeat drowned out the world as his mind hummed from adrenaline. Expecting more monks to come, he feared this job was snowballing.
However, it was only fear.
After a moment of high anxiety, he relaxed, realizing he’d brought his own bogeymen. Beyond the pounding in his chest, there was only silence. Near the window, he poked a bloodied arm outside to signal the woman to come up. Turning back to the dead monk in the shadows, he wiped his blade and hands across the bottom of the robe where the blood hadn’t yet soaked. As the woman crawled through the window, he braced for her searing chastisement.
It came quick, “Fool! We’re now dead and damned!”
The silhouette standing by the window was strong and shapely. He admired her lithe, well-kept body. Even in the darkness, she looked intimidating with the facemask wrapped across her hooded head. Her black eyes seemed aglow as she sidestepped the still twitching corpse. As if drawn to them, she naturally found darker shadows while whispering harshly, “Why’d j’you kill him? You know the rules! Darren’s gonna bump us hard for that! Why you kill’m?”
Silently, he barked, “Be quiet while I bar the door! One dead monk trumps two dead thieves––you get my meaning? Do your part and quit snivlin!”
She understood there were supposed to be no dead monks. She threw an offensive hand gesture over her shoulder while marching quietly toward the prayer room. Her tight clothes were similar to his in appearance. They were designed to merge with the shadows. She moved invisibly on soft shoes through the darkness, but upon reaching the prayer room, she stood exposed, solid black against the candlelight.
Standing outside the circular room, she looked within where a multitude of white candles burned. Tallow candles burned clean, no wax ever dropped to mar this room’s magnificence. Over one hundred candles burned upon gold and silver candelabras, more burned upon golden sconces crafted along the walls. Each ornate candlestick had been marked with copper symbols expressing spiritual principles and tenants―love, peace, forgiveness, trust, justice, and wisdom―these were the ideals believed to make a deity real.
“Hooo-lyyyy,” she breathed. Her eyes appraised their value quickly, “How much is all this worth?” An early retirement, she thought to herself.
Central to the room stood a marble altar, white with gray swirls. Brown meditation pillows surround the altar three circles deep. She figured the monks must pray facing the center. Incense sticks burn upon the altar’s corners and their ashes fall into copper bowls poised underneath.
She saw what they came for as he whispered, “Ignore the candles. On the marble altar—there is our prize.”
Atop the marble surface, two silver prongs were crafted into the likeness of feminine hands. Resting between silver thumbs lay a black-handled scepter. The shaft resembled swirling obsidian, milky black. The crown’s end of the scepter weighed with four golden prongs, flanged, and nearly four inches long. Each prong was ribbed with a narrow edge of platinum. Planted in the very center of the golden head, a diamond nearly the size of a hazelnut winked in the candlelight.
Her head buzzed just looking at their prize. Reaching into a long pouch tied at her belt, she withdrew a small mirror and a narrow iron rod. These were the most important tools of her trade. If their prize was protected by traps, she would locate and remove each of them. Gingerly walking into the room, she remained mindful of where she placed her feet. Assumptions generally ended poorly in her line of work––if not fatally.
The mosaic ended at the beginning of this candle-lit room. Now the tiles began wide and matched the color of the walls. Wide tiles hinted a chance for pressure plates, which could release all sorts of mayhem. Crouching low, she held the looking glass behind each tile and used the iron rod to tap for density changes in the stone. Once convinced there wasn’t a trap, she stepped in and checked the next tile. With the quickness of a pro, she moved closer to the altar, one tile at a time.
Two long paces from the altar, she sensed a change in the atmosphere accompanied with a soft fear tickling her spine. No natural air movement rolled within the room. Upon entering, she noticed the holes in the ceiling to release incense from building within the room. However, the holes were too small to alter air flow. The candles’ flames did not waver, yet the smoke from the incense lashed aggressively above the altar.
Soft wisps of sweet smoke drew together, becoming firm and solid. Converging in the air, the smoke merged into a sharply angled and angry face. White smoke streamers curled where cheekbones ended. Materializing above the altar, a smoking chin and cruel lips hovered in the air. Hollow points, void of eyes, angled toward her.
Stopping cold, as did her heart momentarily, she stared upon the conjured ward before daring to pass a desperate look to her partner. This was beyond her ability.
Recognizing her plight, he ordered, “Just grab it!”
She knew there was no choice but forward. He’d killed the priest, damning them both. Their only chance now was the security of their employer, which would be forfeit without bringing their trophy.
She moved two steps closer. Looking back at him, he signaled with repetitive grabbing motions. Snatch and run. A half step closer and the smoke face hardened, growing ever more menacing. Rows of predatory teeth waited behind sneering lips. Hoping to prove faster than the apparition floating before her, she struck downward like a cobra and plucked the rod from its holder, snatching the prize.
Leaping backward with the rod grasped in two hands, she fell to the ground, toppling across the floor. Vibrating the room, a magical voice boomed, “Intruder! Intruder! Intruder!” The alarm pulsed from within the very bricks and its clamoring became disorienting. Its echo bounced loudly within the room. The priests would be up now.
Scrambling back to her feet, she stared at the smoke face, now a mocking smile. The demonic mouth grinned with an empty promise. Emitting her own nervous laugh, she realized this was an illusion. The world tilted. Standing upon uneven feet, a pleasant sound droned in her head. She giggled—and she didn’t know why.
She watched as her partner put gloves on his hands, but in slow motion. Feeling unnaturally calm, void of any fear, she recognized she’d sprung a trap. Upon the scepter must have been a contact drug, maybe a poison, or some other sort of magical curse. The smoky mouth offered only a fearful visage, but in truth, it instilled a gentle warning. The real trap was tripped the moment she’d touched the scepter.
For reasons unknown to her, she could not drop her prize. Her hands tightened around the smooth stone shaft, even knowing the drug had to be seeping through her skin. Pleasure, unlike any she had known before—and she’d known many—now streamed from her fingers to her elbows. Paralyzing while seeping deeper into her body, in her mind, beautiful imagery played. Unaware, she fell backward off numb feet. Time slipped from slow motion to non-motion. An eternity passed faster than her fall to the floor.
After what seemed a week of divine pleasure, a flash of pain marked where stone tiles smacked against the back of her head. The sharp sting at the base of her skull was rewarded with absorbing bliss. Ecstasy filled her body and mind. Captured in the undertow of indescribable pleasure, without control she smiled and giggled.
Vaguely, she resisted as the scepter was wrenched from clutched hands. Somewhere, a faraway voice shouted in a strange, yet pleasing rhythm, “Intruder, Intruder…”