A Fire Within

Book One of the Shattered Earth Saga

Good and Evil. Heaven and Hell. A tale that has rode the waves of time since its very beginning, and one clear in the minds of all those who grace the Earth. But now that tale has become something more than that, more than just a simple belief. Now that tale has become a thing so tangible it threatens the corruption of all those caught in the whirlwind of its power.

Scarred by centuries of war with the Praests, the Arbiters, the highest Caste in the Hierarchy of Man, are fraught with fear and blind to the true threat that now roams the Earth. Blind to the sinister forces of Hell that have amassed under the leadership of the powerful entity Apocalypse. Blind to the corruption that threatens to destroy their Caste from within. And blind to the Men who do all that they can to set their path back on the righteous track.

Joshua, a young Arbiter content with his life of training in the renowned Duris Academy, finds that life thrown in to a turmoil that will dictate the course of his future, as he is cast out amongst pariahs whose name had been a curse on his lips. Not only is he hunted in the waking world by a brother twisted evil by his own insanity, but also by a force that stalks his own subconscious waiting for a chance to finally take control. Now, he must rely on those pariahs to train him to be the Man they need him to be to defend the Earth against threats born from the very bowels of Hell.

On this personal journey Joshua will find allies amongst those he believed his greatest enemies, and enemies in places he dared not even fathom. Wrought with fear, Joshua must overcome the confines of his own mortality and allow a natural darkness taint his soul in order to protect his family and all those he loves against the ultimate evil. For if he fails, the whole world could fall in to the grasps of the Devil.

An Excerpt from A Fire Within

Chapter 9

Joshua sat cross-legged on the not hard, not soft dark grey floor of the non-existent world of his dream, surrounded by an invisible cloud of his own anxiety. It was a world that he had become too familiar with. One that brought him even more fear than the hateful faces of the Daemons that were now tattooed in his memory. Still there was no wind, no heat, no cold and no apparent end to this outlandish place. He had no idea how long he had been there. It could have been a matter of days, or it could have been months. There was simply no way of telling. The only thing keeping him company was the incessant scratching of the entity climbing the vast pit directly in front of him.

After ages of unfathomable consideration, apprehension rising with each individual scratch, Joshua pushed himself to explore. To see if this place had any limits. He walked a distance that he could not calculate for a time he could not determine. The only thing he was sure of was that he ended up at the exact spot he had started. But what unnerved him more was that no matter how far he went, or for how long he walked, the scratching remained the same. The same volume. The same consistency. It mocked him, feeding his fear. The place defied logic in a way that terrified him.

It was futile. There was no escape. There was no reprieve. How long would it be before his mind crumbled against the oppressive futility? How long before his composure cracked?

Calmness. He needed to reach down deep inside and find some sort of serenity, then reach deep in to his memories for the thoughts that might distract him from his own personal Hell. He sat down once again, but those soothing thoughts did not manifest. Instead, he contemplated the notion that he may actually be dead.

It was not a ridiculous thought. The Veritus had threatened as much. And would anyone rush to save a Taren-Hem? Would he have rushed to save a Taren-Hem? He wanted to say yes. He wanted to scream it until he was sure it was the truth. But he could not. He could not convince himself of something he knew not to be true. Just like he could not convince himself that he was still alive.

His family. They would have saved him. They would have thrown themselves before the sword of the Veritus for him. He squeezed his eyes shut trying to fight away the image. Squeezed them so hard, clenching his teeth with such vigour he could feel them creek. To him, his life was worth far less than theirs. He was Taren-Hem and to think of his family dying for him was worse even than the unknown presence in the void.

He hoped he was not dead. In truth there was no fear in death, such were the teachings of Duris Academy. A life could be snatched away at any time. But the afterlife they taught of was not this unending horror. He did not fear the death that they taught about, what he feared was the death that would leave him stranded in this vile place.

If it was just the nothingness then he could endure, at least for a time. But not the scratching. Not the threat of the creature in the abyss.

That soul crushing threat was something he could never make peace with.

He was unsure if it was the not knowing that terrified him the most, or whether it was the inevitability that the creature would eventually reach the rim of the void. If this was death then he would be fated to spend his eternity wandering aimlessly like a ghost oblivious to its demise, hunted and alone.

One thought crossed his mind constantly, daring him to do the unimaginable. It was a thought that urged him to fight against the cowardice and fear that had taken over every fibre of him like a parasite. It was a thought that urged him to climb in to the void and confront the creature that haunted his mind. The fear always won. Every time he attempted to overcome it his body froze in resistance. He could not even bring himself to look in to the blackness. There was only one single glimmer of reprieve. The entity had not spoken again. It had remained silent in its effort to escape. That had been the most terrifying moment of his short life. Those words...those harsh forceful words...had sent a terror through him like a sharp knife cutting in to his soul.

The thoughts, the fear, the unknown, all of it dragged at his sanity and made him want to scream his unending plight so loud that the very Heaven would hear his pain. He had to do something, something that meant he would not spend the rest of time dwelling on everything until his mind shattered like weak glass. Joshua urged himself to his feet and, with a surge of courage looked over the rim of the pit and shouted with almighty defiance, “Who are you?!”

Nothing.......Nothing except the most taunting anti-climax. All that fear, all that worry, all for nothing.

Again Joshua shouted, “Who are you?!”

Once again the only reply was the echo of his own voice as it rebounded off the edges of the expanse, and the scratch, scratch, scratch of fingers against stone. But there was no stone. The void, just like everything else around him, was made of nothing. What was that sound? What was that scratching?

Frustrated, Joshua closed his eyes and let out a magnificent shout aimed at the non-existent sky. There was no reply. He laughed. Had he finally lost his mind? Was that scratching merely his own sanity slowly breaking apart?

Still laughing he looked down...but this time there was not merely blackness. This time there was a face full of cruel malice staring right back at him. A face so terrifying he felt his soul freeze in fear.