Hey everyone! I've been a long-time lurker and writer, but honestly lately I've really began to develop a lot anxiety about my writing, so I thought sharing it with a community would be great! I'm not finishing for compliments, just wanting to see what works and what doesn't!

This is obviously meant to inspire intrigue and introduce a few main characters, rather explain in great detail anything or be a complete story, though I do like my prologues to function relatively well on their own. I tried to work with the present tense this time, which is a pretty new to me. Let me know if you catch any pesky past tenses lying around!

1.5k words

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These Crimson Bones (Prologue)

The blade lies discarded, a pool of sin welling around it. Thick drops lead backward into the belly of the castle. A man runs his hand on the wall as he stumbles forward in the darkness. He clutches his waist. The moonless night sucks the light from the hall. The man is short of breath, his eyes are glazed over. He lurches, meeting the ground hard. Splayed, he is a corpse to the world, but the marble is warm and welcoming to him. His lungs fill with crisp air, and he holds his eyes shut against the threats of reality. For a moment, he is at peace.

When his eyes drag open, the walls are squirming. Black tentacles seem to squish and slither just beyond his vision. He feels his stupid eyes brim with tears. An extended hand begs for light, a disobedient mind attempts to call it forth, but focus lacks. The crushing black remains, and each passing second brings the walls closer to him. The vaulting ceiling is just above his head, and the floor is pushing on his chest.

The man drags himself forward, shaking legs refusing his weight. Fingers scratch at the wall, searching for a window. In the day, this hall shines with an effervescent light, the huge windows welcoming the whites and blues and greens of almost ethereal nature to flood the man-made structure with serenity. His desperate memory begs his eyes to see every illuminated surface as he once knew them. Begs for him to breathe steadiness through his bones, call understanding and knowing back.

But the light is drained, sucked away by the monsters that slink and slime ever closer. Hands find something winding and cold. The man chokes on his own saliva. He follows the metal and pushes on the glass behind it. A window. Now his arms jerk wildly, he grasps for something heavy, something sturdy. He knows he will not break the glass, he will not make the latticed metalwork obey him. It will remain, haunting him, caging him, taunting him with its beauty.

Just as his laden fist hangs in the air, the suffocating silence that wrapped its dampness around him breaks with the tap of echoes. Footsteps. The man presses his body against the wall and refuses the temptation to breathe. The clicking of light boots grows louder and louder.

The palace was empty. He had been told. He had made sure. The king and queen were to arrive in advance of the guard, meeting in secret with some select advisers. So clandestine that the entire royal household had been convinced of some lie to facilitate this meeting. The man’s throat was dry and his entire body prickled as the clicking burrowed into his skull, slinking like festering worms into his earholes. The cold wall behind him wants to pull him back, the guts of the castle churn and scream murder.

Once, the man thought this would be the perfect crime. The set-up and the execution would be achieved without hesitation, flaw, or remorse. The Grand General had told him as much. She had breathed hope where fear and regret clutched now. The honey that congealed in his ears was being devoured by silent worms. He pushes a fist against his lids, wanting to shove betraying tears back.

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The clicking stops. He dares not move. Dares not open his eyes.

“I’d have thought you’d be better at this.” A woman’s voice. He knows it well. A whisper, a sound, a flash, and the brightness rips open his eyes. The woman stands some ways away, a satisfying smirk carved into her sharp features. An elbow rests lazily on her hip, hand extended; the source of the light floats above her calloused fingers. The small ball of light dances with white rays, it sears his eyes. “Although, I almost didn’t notice you.”

“What are you doing here Annabelle?” His words vomit out of him before he can stop himself. The woman cocks an eyebrow toward him. He shakes his head and bites down on that traitorous tongue.

“Do you think you were going to be trusted?” The man shakes his head again, eyes on the floor. A second later a ringing erupts through the hall as the bloodied blade bounces away from her. He fights back his rising stomach as nails bite the flesh of his palm. Annabelle’s lyrical voice carves the air, “Look at what you’ve done.”

Silence threatens them until the man sucks air through his teeth, forcing his back straight, “I know she didn’t send you.”

A soft little shake of the head, “But what if she did?”

The man bends down to the blade, looks straight at the woman. Tries to find the girl behind the facade. The olive skin is flawless, but eyes smudged with black, pinched raven hair tinged with crimson, some of it shaved all inspire some confidence in her childishness. He puts a hand on the blade.

“Where did it go wrong?” Her head is cocked, and she begins to pace. The clicking starts again, but the man tenses and flexes his muscles in response.

“Double-timed.” His voice is unpracticed, dry.

“Grey Maiden?”

He stands and wipes the blade on the hem of his black tunic. He spins it in his palm, slowly at first, but the familiar motions distract. “She wasn’t involved. Thought you knew.”

Arms crossed in response. The ball of light lists lazily through the air, pulling and pushing shadows like the passage of days. “So why is her ship at harbour?”

The man nails bounce off the blade’s handle, “Must have had business here. Maybe grew a conscience.” He shrugs, offers, “Maybe that contributed to all this.”

The smirk never leaves her face, “Maybe it was your incompetence.”

“Why are you here Annabelle?”

She switches back to the language they had both grown with, “Can’t I watch a fellow countryman make history?”

“No.” In the common-tongue.

“Call it the thrill of the hunt, if you’d like.” She laughs to herself, as though regicide was just another evening.

“You’re not well. No wonder the Grand General k—”

A flash, a flare, and the smirk disappears. The woman’s arm pushes him against the wall, the murderous blade is already drawing blood from his throat. The man deftly raises a knee, grabs the blade by the steel, and shoves the woman off him.

“You’re fucked.” He spits at her in their shared language, smothering his palm with cloth. A nervous eye wanders down the hall, past the edges of Annabelle’s light-ball, to where all consuming darkness waits to crush around him. The man looks at his palm, steadies, but his own light does not come.

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Annabelle’s breathing is ragged and her face is flushed. She almost twitches. He sighs, “How did you manage that?” points to the source.

She is barely under control. Memories of the girl throwing plates of food, ripping books apart, makes it easier to talk down to her. She shakes her head, flickers of a smirk stretch and fade across that pretty skin, “Let’s start over.”

“Let’s not,” He says, sheathing the dagger and motioning down the hall, “let’s get out.” Annabelle walked forward and cradled the light-ball in her hands. The man puts a hand under his chin, checks for blood. His skin is still slippery, his heart still races. But despite the shock, Annabelle’s presence reassures him. Even such a wild surprise is still a member of the Order. That bring comfort. He winks back, “I appreciate that you came to make sure it was all done correctly.”

Annabelle nods to him, and they make quick work of the hallways. With the guiding light, each step feels familiar and certain, and they slide and skitter silently through the palace with the skill of well-traveled rats. As they round another corner, the man signals for Annabelle to slow.

“Meet-ups ahead, this hall ends in a gate.”

“Who’s opening? Grey Maiden?”

He stops, “I told you she wasn’t involved.”

“Yes, but you lied.”

He shakes his head slowly. Perhaps she was actually sent by the Grand General. The bitterness of his earlier words floats back to him. He looks the woman up and down. Her clothes are of the Order, and specific to such an operation. The small dirks on her hip are emblazoned with the Order’s symbols. “Grand General sent you?”

Her smirk broke into something bigger, “I’m the insurance policy. In case…” Her fingers dance by way of explanation. Betrayal, confusion, failiure. She was meant to be the janitor.

“Pretty hefty job.”

Her fingers stop their swing, rest on his shoulder, “I’m sorry, about earlier. Banter was meant to be fun. You looked like you needed some levity.”

“Yeah,” with a gruff voice, “I was out of line.”

She nods curtly, pulling the light into her hand and gazing down the hall, “So, Grey Maiden?”

A shaken head, “Was meant to be. Insider is going instead.”

“Ah, so she was the double-timer?”

“That I was.”

The man’s eyes slam up, his body lurches around, a figure materializing. His hand fumbles for the blade, “But, how?”

The Grey Maiden lifts up the dagger that should have been in the man’s sheath, shifting pastel-toned irises causing the man to fall backwards, landing heavily.

“Gate’s just down that way,” Annabelle holds her light-ball with claws, “Let’s race to it.”

And the flood of darkness washes over with a thunderous crash.

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