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Monday, December 04, 2017

EXCERPT: The Wrath of Angels

This is an excerpt from The Wrath of Angels. It is not necessary to read either The War in Heaven or The World in Shadow first. In fact, I'm not even sure if it is advisable to do so. This series is not my best fiction, but more than a few readers have enjoyed it.

Thirty miles south of London, there is a garden park located on the edge of the Sussex Weald. It is a quiet place, and beautiful, graced by a chain of five lakes linked by waterfalls. Only a few paces outside the park’s boundaries, three trees stood next to each other in a single row, two chestnuts and a mighty oak, with branches interlocking and knobby roots digging deep into the rich, loamy dirt of the quiet forest. Such a sight would not normally occasion any cause for comment, except for the fact that ten seconds ago, the area on which they stood had been largely devoid of vegetation, with the exception of a solitary ceanothus, the continued thriving of which looked less than promising in light of how its access to the sun had been unexpectedly curtailed.

Two squirrels, which had been happily occupied with chasing each other’s tails until the sunlight suddenly vanished, pulled up from their sport in some confusion. They were quite familiar with the location of every nut-bearing tree in the immediate vicinity, and even to their diminutive rodent minds it seemed implausible to the point of impossibility that they could have somehow overlooked the massive acorn-producing factory that now towered over their furry grey heads.

The smaller of the two squeaked quizzically at his companion, who sat back on his haunches with an expression of overt skepticism that would have been comprehensible even to an observer who did not happen to be a member of the greater sciurus family. The small squirrel was not to be dissuaded, though, not with the promise of what appeared to be the finest unmarked claim that southeastern English squirreldom had seen in five generations.

His nose quivered, then he cautiously took a step towards the giant oak. Then another, and a third, followed by a little leap that brought him within a single bound of the great tree. An ill-timed gust of wind caused its branches to rustle threateningly, and the second squirrel chirped a warning which encouraged his more adventurous friend to think twice about venturing the giant on the first go. Instead, he scrambled up the leftmost tree, the taller of the two chestnuts, and edged out on a limb that would bring him to within inches of one of the mighty oak’s lower branches.

He never made it, though. Without warning, without even the smallest breath of wind, the limb on which he was crouching twitched violently and sent him tumbling head-over-tail to the ground eight feet below. No sooner had the surprised rodent touched the ground than he was scampering off for the protection of more familiar trees, more proper trees, trees which held still as trees were supposed to hold still, and suffered the pitter-patter of little feet with forbearance. Only slightly behind him was his friend, who was squawking angry imprecations over his shoulder as he retreated hastily.

“Oh, that’s not nice,” commented the tree, now sans squirrels.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to do that,” muttered the other chestnut.

“I couldn’t help it, those tiny claws, they tickle!”

“You have to relax, be the tree.”

“I don’t believe everyone is quite as accustomed to the need to hide from pursuit as you, Puck,” commented the oak in a deep oakish bass. “So, what do we do now?”

“We wait. Beowaesc will be here soon, I’m sure. I told him I might be needing to lie low for a while, and this is a good place to do it. No one ever comes here except the woodland spirits and tempters stuck watching over the occasional eco-freak. He’ll probably have noticed our arrival, and if not, those disgusting little squeakers will probably run right to him anyhow.”

“They’re not disgusting,” protested the first chestnut. “Their feet just tickle, that’s all.”

“Rats with tails,” insisted the other chestnut, shaking its branches. “Don’t be fooled by the cute fluffy act, it’s nothing but a charade. If you’d ever been a tree before—”

“Silence!” The oak commanded an end to the discussion. “One comes.”

An outline of a face appeared on the bark of the chestnut tree. The face resembled Robin’s, in the same way that a face pressed up against a bed sheet resembles the face of the person behind the bed sheet. It was not entirely recognizable, but as Robin had said, Beowaesc was expecting him. And then, Beowaesc was more than a little accustomed to differentiating between one tree and another.

“Ah, so there you are. You don’t know much about trees, do you, Puck.”

“Er… a good day to you, my lord. Why do you say that?”

Beowaesc was a tall forest god, with richly hued skin that shone like varnished beech. His well-kept beard was mahogany and of middling length, and his eyes, filled with the ancient wisdom of the woods, were set deep into his craggy face. He carried a neatly polished staff, and his bare feet were so hard and horny that Robin pitied any poor boots forced to protect the earth from them should he ever choose to wear a pair. Antlers sprang from his forehead, not a great stag’s rack like the Hunters, but a humbler pair of three-tined horns. Like his forest, Beowaesc had a touch of civilization about him, and yet there was a sense of earthy power radiating from him even so.

The forest lord pointed to the blue-flowered tree shrouded by their branches. “It’s quite simple. No ceanothus could ever grow to such heights enshrouded by the likes of you three. Anyone who knows the first thing about vegetation would know something was amiss. Why, even a mortal would have noted it!”

A look of chagrin crossed the bark face. Robin’s lips twisted in an expression of frustration, and in the blink of an eye, the chestnut disappeared and he was himself again, albeit clad in an appropriately woodsy brown robe.

“You make it sound so obvious!”

“It is, if you know what to look for.”

“Very well, what would you advise, then, should we seek to avoid drawing unwanted attention.”

Beowaesc stroked his beard and smiled at Robin, as if he were a favored nephew. “Why don’t you introduce your companions to me first? Then, I shall advise you as to a suitable locale. There is a pleasant glen with a lovely view of the main waterfall not far from here. It’s only about a five minute walk. I’ve spent many a pleasant season there.”

Robin tried not to roll his eyes. A season? And more than once? This was not his first time as a tree, nor even his twentieth, but it was a guise he wore only out of necessity. It was mind-crushingly boring, for one thing, and for another, Lahalissa was right. Squirrel feet tickled something terrible. “How very kind,” he answered, leaving his thoughts unvoiced. “This is Lahalissa, in service to… a Shadow Lady of some note known as Dr. Sprite.”

“Indeed,” Beowaesc nodded politely as the second chestnut transformed before him. As Robin hoped, the forest lord had no knowledge of the world of mortal academics and would ask no dangerous questions. Beowaesc smiled in appreciation, though, as the lovely daemoness curtsied to him wearing a leafy woodland outfit that honored his position as well as her figure. “The aspect suits you well, my dear. Be welcome in my weald, Lahalissa.”

“Thank you, Great Lord,” she breathed submissively.

“And this—”

“Oh, no. No, no, no.” Beowaesc’s eyes widened and he backed away from the place where the giant oak had stood only a moment before. “That’s not possible. It can’t be!”

“So you recognize your rightful liege, old friend?” said Oberon, and his voice was like frost running down the edge of a sword blade. “Or perhaps you have forgotten oaths sworn long ago, sworn by Rose and Thorn.”

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18 Comments:

Anonymous Avalanche December 04, 2017 7:04 PM  

Bought it -- seems fantastic, just from the excerpt. Of course, now I'll have to buy its predecessors as well... You're an expensive habit, Dark Lord!! (Not complaining, just remarking.)

Blogger MendoScot December 04, 2017 7:08 PM  

Still love them, Vox.

Coincidentally, I just pulled The War in Heaven down from the shelf today to kill a rainy afternoon, after being chucked out of work over a fake bomb threat.

The Game and D&D references still make me chuckle.

Anonymous Brick Hardslab December 04, 2017 8:25 PM  

It's a good series but you've improved.

Blogger bw December 04, 2017 8:32 PM  

Old School.

Back in the DAY....

Blogger maniacprovost December 04, 2017 9:31 PM  

It hurts so bad.

Your newer prose is substantially better.

Anonymous 2106 things I Hate December 04, 2017 9:38 PM  

Definitely enjoyed this one the best out of these. It's not necessary to area the first two to enjoy thus one.

"...it appears thou art Chaos'..."

Jehuel's character, and his transformation, always stuck with me for some reason.

Anonymous Brick Hardslab December 04, 2017 9:57 PM  

Is there biblical support for a separate creation? I just kind of filed that one away for later.

Blogger Shell December 04, 2017 10:44 PM  

I very much enjoyed the trilogy. Not only did the story hook me, but I found all the theological references interesting. I always enjoy your prespective on theologiCal matters, Vox. Especially when you see/consider things in a different way than I ever have or have encountered.

Blogger Flannel Avenger December 04, 2017 11:09 PM  

I bought it years ago and enjoyed it. I think that even though it is not your best work, it still has a lot of potential as a property that you could get a different author to write stories in. I think it also had the potential for a lot of great comic material since you're getting into that market.

Anonymous The Original Arrogant Steelers Fan December 04, 2017 11:37 PM  

I'm not a big fan of fantasy but I may actually give this one a try.

OT: I see we are witnessing another exciting edition of Steelers versus Bengals highlighting the progress of the NFL's benign no-helmet-to-helmet let the players decide the game policies.... yeah.

Anonymous SidVic December 04, 2017 11:46 PM  

too cutesy.

Blogger Beau December 05, 2017 12:28 AM  

too cutesy.

Don't worry. It gets very dark.

Anonymous Whoops, autocorrect December 05, 2017 2:18 AM  

This at least explains VD's love affair with John C. Wright. Neither of them would trade an opportunity to be clever when clarity would suffice.

In our modern world where words are forever, it pays to sound smrater than your enimenies.

Anonymous Aeoli Pera December 05, 2017 7:00 AM  

The bombastic style isn't bad if the reader is into it (I enjoyed making the squirrels' acquaintance), but a plainstyle account is preferable for epic stories. Your stylistic vice back then was to tell jokes with verbose, self-satisfied punchlines that aren't that funny and only belong in very specific social settings. It's also in your nonfiction, but you've obviously come a long way.

That said, you're underselling this book. The story and characters are excellent.

Anonymous Tipsy December 05, 2017 1:01 PM  

Beau wrote:too cutesy.

Don't worry. It gets very dark.



Beau! I haven't seen you in a while, and was wondering how you are doing. Hope all is well!

Anonymous Bird on a Wing December 05, 2017 1:38 PM  

I will read it.

Blogger Stan_qaz December 05, 2017 11:47 PM  

Rats, The World in Shadow isn't on KU but the other two are and I now have them in my queue to read.

I'm finding it impossible to keep up with the SF titles I keep saving to my Kindle Unlimited list, making it difficult to justify buying a SF book. When I'm a click away from 700+ books interesting enough for me to have saved links to them it is hard to dig out even $2.99 without a really good reason. The $15 something books, I don't even look at them these days.

Blogger licky December 06, 2017 5:02 AM  

good blog


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