Chapter 24.5 is an interesting one, not just because it didn’t make it into the final book, but also because it reveals so much more about the wood-witch (Kelga) and the Shadow Reborn (Oyru). It hints at how their two magics work and gives the reader a lot more of the grimdark/horror elements that aren’t as apparent in Book 1, but which become more stark as the series progresses. It also gives a preview of the golden Mask of Gevul’s Mistress (which appears at the end of Master of Sorrows and which plays a significant part in Book 2).
Now, as to why it wasn’t included in the final book, there are two very good reasons:
(1) Most of Master of Sorrows takes place from the perspective of the protagonist (Annev de Breth), and Chapter 24.5 is essentially a POV shift. I cheat a bit by having Annev act as a “floating eye” in which he dreams about the events taking place, but it’s still not something he experiences directly. Given all that, it didn’t make much sense to include it, especially since . . .
(2) Annev can’t remember the details of his dream when he wakes. So the reader would know about the dream, but Annev would not. That would be odd (to say the least) and implies that the chapter would be wholly unnecessary (just a tool for squeezing in more world-building, etc).
So, in the end, we cut the chapter. I didn’t throw it away, though, because these events are still canon. They happened but Annev didn’t experience them and/or he can’t remember them – but they still occurred within the context of Book 1, so it made sense to hang onto the chapter (if only for readers who later wanted a good short story that expanded on the background events that happened in Master of Sorrows).
There is a second reason this chapter is worth keeping, though, and that is because this foreshadows Annev’s ability to enter the world of dreams. In this particular chapter, Annev “dream walks” and experiences a vision of actual events that are occurring while he is sleeping. He witnesses them as if he were actually there – as if he were one of the participants – and this is significant because he continues to develop this ability later in the series (first by dream walking and later through astral projection); as he gets better at this ability, he also gets better at remembering the details of his dreams and eventually interacting with the events he observes from afar. Also, since the World of Dreams borders the Shadowrealm (a place we see a lot more of in Book 2), it made sense to keep this scene for future readers. However, because of the aforementioned reasons, we decided it didn’t make sense to include it in Book 1. It’s definitely worth reading, though – especially if you read and enjoyed Master of Sorrows – because it sheds a whole new light on the events that later occur between Oyru, Kelga and Annev.
MASTER OF SORROWS: THE LOST CHAPTERS
Annev awoke as the woman in the gold mask pounded on his chest. The invisible wall that had constricted his lungs and rib cage disappeared and a burst of stale air erupted from his mouth. As fresh oxygen rushed to fill the vacuum, Annev coughed violently, expelling it back out. His eyes fluttered open and closed, trying to reconcile the blackness he saw with the blackness he had felt while unconscious; the stars were bright above him, yet few shined through the thick canopy shrouding the Brakewood.
Annev coughed again, his lungs rattling, then began to breathe in earnest. He rolled onto his stomach, struggling with disorientation as he huddled beneath his brown traveler’s cloak. His face hurt. His chest ached. Perhaps worst of all, though, was the pain in his left hand.
When he tried to stand, he stumbled and realised his wrists and ankles had been bound. Anxiety rising, Annev carefully probed the ground beneath him and found that he had been lying on a flat rock. His hands reached farther, finding the edge of the raised stone, and he discerned he was kneeling on a table of some sort. At the same time, he discovered the source of the pain in his left hand.
He was missing three of his fingers.
When a feminine voice spoke from somewhere nearby, Annev scrabbled atop the rock and searched for the speaker, but his eyes were still unable to pierce the abiding gloom.
‘He refuses to speak,’ the woman said, her voice dripping with malice. ‘If you would just let me— ’
‘No.’ The reply came a short distance away. ‘You have had your chance. The seer will divine what I need to know.’
The woman’s voice dripped with venom, but this second voice – a man’s voice – was devoid of all emotion. Cold. Apathetic. Empty.
Annev feared the first voice, but he was terrified of the second.
A second coughing spasm racked Annev’s body as he struggled to stand and see the two people speaking. Instead of rising from the ground, though, he fell off the stone table and landed with his face in the dirt.
I need to get up, Annev thought, his heart racing. I need to get out of here . . . to run! But his mind was sluggish, thick with fog, and his limbs were slow to respond to his commands. He searched his memories for any clue of who these people were or how he had gotten to the Brakewood, but the last thing he could remember was his frustrating conversation with Tosan.
A small but powerful hand grasped the base of Annev’s skull just as a second hand reached between his legs and lifted him off the ground. The darkness seemed to spin around him, and then he crashed back down onto the stone table. Moonlight broke through a gap in the canopy overhead just as a hand grabbed Annev’s thinning hair and pulled his head back, exposing his neck. A thin blade of metal appeared, pressing against his skin.
His attacker leaned forward, her golden lips brushing Annev’s ear lobe. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the woman’s features were hidden behind a delicate golden mask.
‘Lie still,’ the woman breathed behind the unmoving gilded lips. Her voice trembled slightly, as if in ecstasy or pain.
A dark form moved in the shadows to Annev’s right. He instinctively turned his head, trying to see what new menace threatened him, but the masked woman’s knife sliced into his skin. She yanked his head back, slamming it into the stone table, and he felt his body go limp.
A withered face approached the altar and peered into Annev’s eyes. In the dim light of the moon, he glimpsed crooked teeth and milky-white irises.
The old woman smacked her lips, her tongue slithering out to lap at her own saliva. She took the knife from the woman in the gold mask and cackled.
Before Annev could process what was happening, he felt a sharp pain slice through his abdomen. Warm blood flowed over his skin, soaking his shirt and pooling onto the table. An unnatural chill seeped into his chest and bowels, and then something seized his core, twisting his guts into an onslaught of agony.
Somewhere nearby, he heard a scream – a wail of pure and unabashed torment. Annev turned his head, confused, then realized the sound was coming from his own mouth. At almost the same time, the masked woman snatched something off the table and shoved it in his mouth, forcing him to clamp down on it. He gagged, tasting blood. The flesh yielded slightly beneath his teeth before meeting bone – and then he knew.
He was biting his own severed fingers.
Above him, the old woman lifted a flat, palm-sized rock. She turned the stone in her hands so that its face reflected the moonlight, revealing a flaky red smear on the surface of the rock. The sight of it stoked something in Annev’s memory, but his mind was so hazy with pain, he couldn’t fathom why the stone looked familiar.
The crone lifted the rock to her mouth and spat on its surface. Her pointed tongue snaked out, swirling in the saliva stained red by the crimson powder. She smacked her lips yet again, eyes closed, savoring. When she opened her eyes, the dots of the seer’s pupils glowed red.
The old woman set the rock down on the table and took back up the knife – a slender blade with a wicked curve nearly a span-and-a-half in length. Her other hand reached down, grasping at Annev’s stomach, and the twisting torment seized his gut once again. He screamed around his makeshift gag and tried to resist – to pull away from the witch and roll off the table – but the masked woman pinned his head and shoulders as if he were but a frail child.
The seer drew a handful of intestines up to her face and examined them closely. She prodded the bloody coils with her knife and spoke.
‘The Vessel is close . . . and closer still.’ She sniffed the entrails then hissed. ‘But he is hidden from my sight – from anyone’s sight.’
The woman holding Annev’s head growled beneath her gilded mask, but it was the chilling, unseen male who spoke.
‘How?’ The stranger’s voice was so flat, so void of emotion, it was barely a question.
‘A magic circle,’ the seer said, fondling the intestines. ‘Old magic . . . as old as the forest. Yet there is a path through the circle.’
She reached deeper into Annev’s guts, grasping at exposed organs, prodding them with the tip of her knife. The excruciating pain Annev had previously felt had now morphed into something less insistent. He unclenched his jaw and the severed fingers fell from his mouth. Slowly, he felt himself drift away from the pain, his consciousness seeming to rise out of his head and above his body.
‘An anointing,’ the witch said at last. ‘Or the help of a guide who has been anointed.’
‘A guide,’ the male voice said, almost sighing. ‘But this man is dead.’
Annev looked down at the hunched old woman, detached from all the sensations of his body. He watched in fascination as she looped more of his bowels around her fingers.
‘Yes,’ she said, pinching one of the coils between her thumb and forefinger, ‘but he lacks the anointing, so you have lost nothing.’ She slid her knife down the length of the intestine, examining its contents.
‘So how do I find the Vessel?’
‘When he leaves his circle of protection.’
‘When. Where. How will I know him.’
The old woman shook her head, dropping the entrails back into Annev’s gaping stomach. ‘I can only divine with the blood—’ She gestured haphazardly at the palm-sized stone lying beside the corpse. ‘—and a living augury. Once the spirit flees the body, the divination fails.’
With his consciousness floating above the altar, Annev instinctively pulled back from the macabre spectacle of his death. His perspective shifted, rising higher until he could see the entirety of his body. The masked woman stood at one end of the altar and finally released Annev’s head. The hunchbacked witch stood to the right of his corpse, her form cloaked in a cowled black robe, its surface spotted by blood and other darker stains.
Annev’s attention returned to the woman in the golden mask. There was something strange about her – stranger even than the blood-spattered witch; the woman who had pinned him had been short, less than five feet tall, with a tight bun of gold hair peeking out from the back of her metal mask. Her hands and feet were also bare, painted with a dull grey paint, and her limbs were wrapped in tight-fitting strips of black leather. Strangest of all, though, was the blue-black, semi-transparent material that covered the woman’s torso and loins: the substance looked almost like armor, yet it molded perfectly to the woman’s curves and crevices. The effect was disturbingly revealing and not a little erotic.
‘Is there enough blood for another augury?’
Annev tried to shift his perspective toward the unseen speaker, but he found it hard to focus on the stranger’s location; even with his new vantage point and the moonlight shining down on the altar, too much of the grove remained shrouded in darkness. Still, Annev had a general notion of where the speaker stood, so he focused his consciousness on that spot.
From the periphery of his disembodied perspective, Annev saw the witch pick up the flat stone and study its surface.
‘Just,’ the seer said, licking her lips.
‘Then you will tell me precisely when and how the Vessel will leave his circle.’
Something shifted in the darkness Annev was studying. It was faint – a singular shadow moving among other shadows – but its form was that of a man.
‘Bah.’ The old woman spat. ‘Kelga has done her part. I will take my body and—’ Just as the crone reached for Annev’s limp arm, a second blade appeared in the masked woman’s hand. The gilded woman dashed forward, reaching for the seer, but the hag blinked and suddenly she stood on the opposite side of the altar. She shook her head, cackling, and the masked woman hissed in response.
The spectre that Annev had been watching separated itself from the darkness, acquiring depth and dimension as it became corporeal. The shade stepped into the halo of moonlight surrounding the altar and Annev perceived that it did indeed possess the form of a man – tall, toned, and broad-chested – yet its details were obscured by ragged, dark grey robes and a black face wrap. The garment defined the limits of the man’s figure, yet it also blurred the edges of where his body ended and the darkness began.
‘You forget your place, Kelga,’ the shadow said, waving his hand at the altar.
A dozen black tentacles reached out from the darkness beneath the lip of the stone table. The adumbral appendages prodded the surface of the altar, searching for and then latching onto Annev’s limbs, loins, and torso. At the same time, a dark shadow seemed to pool out from beneath the corpse, swallowing the dark blood that had stained the stone’s surface.
The crone reached a hand toward Annev’s remains but before she could reach him, the tentacles constricted and pulled the disemboweled corpse down into the blackness covering the table, disappearing along with the ghostly grey tentacles.
The old woman snarled, ringing her bony hands. ‘We had a bargain, Shadowcaster! That corpse is mine by right.’
‘You have no rights,’ the shade whispered, his voice completely devoid of passion. ‘We had an agreement, and you have not fulfilled it to my satisfaction. Until then, you have no claim on the artisan’s body.’
Kelga titled her head, peering out from beneath the cowl of her robe. The woman’s fiery pupils had been extinguished, yet her milky-white orbs still reflected the moon’s ghostly light. She growled in frustration, held her breath, then cackled with glee.
‘The spell still requires a living augury,’ Kelga taunted.
‘A human sacrifice,’ the man-in-gray clarified, stepping up to the other side of the naked altar. ‘Any restrictions on race, age, or gender?’ As he spoke, tendrils of smoke wafted up from his fingers then solidified in the form of an iron-gray stiletto.
The crone snorted. ‘Breathing is the only requirement. Though I have found—’
The man-in-gray flicked out his arm and the masked woman at the head of the altar jerked in place. She looked down, staring dumbly at the thick metal spike piercing her blue-black armor, then she connected it with the man holding the stiletto’s handle. The petite woman screamed with the rage of pain and betrayal then raised the blade she had used to threaten the witch. In a flash, she stabbed her betrayer once, twice, thrice.
The stranger in the gray rags barely flinched. Inky smoke leaked from his wounds, but these quickly closed, with the injuries and even the rents in his garments healing in moments.
In response to the attack, the stranger released his hold on the buried dagger and used both hands to clap the woman on the sides of her neck, head, and abdomen. The masked female went limp, and the man-in-gray caught her before unceremoniously dropping her unconscious body atop the stone altar.
The witch grunted, poked at the blade protruding from the injured woman’s chest, and shook her head. ‘The girl will die before I finish the divination.’
‘No,’ the gray-garbed man said, waving a hand and causing the black stiletto to disappear in a vapor of smoke. Bright blood bubbled from the wound, but the man ignored it. Instead, he tapped on the injured woman’s golden mask and circled round the altar to stand behind her head. ‘The pain will sustain her. Begin your augury.’
Kelga sniffed at the command but took up her blood-stained stone all the same. Again, she drew her tongue over the rock’s surface, but this time she lapped at every crimson fleck remaining on the stone. When she was finished, the rock was clean, wet with her own saliva.
The crone brought her bloody dagger up and began to cut at the hole in the masked woman’s chest. Annev watched in fascination as the witch worked to peel back shards of the chitinous blue-black armor. From his disembodied perspective, the witch’s knife looked every bit as potent as the stiletto wielded by the man-in-gray, yet the masked woman’s armor resisted the old woman’s blade, fighting against its slender sharpness. After several minutes, the witch finally scraped off enough chitin that she could begin her grisly divination. She licked her lips, plunging both hands into the woman’s stomach and pulling out double handfuls of entrails.
Atop the table, the masked woman jerked, her unconscious body jolted awake by the pain of the crone’s augury. Before she could resist, though, the man in the fluttering gray robes gestured at the table and four pairs of long-fingered hands stretched out of the shadows. The dark gray limbs seized the woman on the table, pinning her arms and legs with demonic strength. The masked woman screamed in earnest then, fighting furiously at her unnatural bonds. She slipped free of one hand, but then six more of the shadow-spawn’s claw-tipped hands shot out of the dark, seizing the freed limb and holding the masked woman’s torso tight to the surface of the stone altar.
‘The Vessel will leave his circle before the end of Regaleus,’ Kelga said, undistracted by the masked woman’s thrashing. ‘You will know him by the mark of Keos that he bears.’
‘Regaleus has already begun,’ the man-in-gray said. ‘So he will leave tomorrow or the night after.’ The witch grunted in agreement. ‘Where?’
Kelga hesitated then twisted the intestines in her hand. Atop the altar, the masked woman screamed.
‘He walks two paths. Two roads that are too similar too disentangle.’ The crone hissed in frustration. ‘One leads east, the other north. But quaire, taints his course, pulling him toward rivers and the oceans.’
‘Northwest . . . and southeast.’ The witch nodded. ‘Where? I need a name. A place.’
‘I see . . . a small town. North of the Brake.’
‘Banok,’ the stranger supplied.
‘Perhaps. The other is . . . here. In the Brake itself.’
The man-in-gray paused then nodded. ‘Go on.’
‘On either path, the Vessel hunts a merchant who hoards items of power. On either path, the Vessel has been sent to claim a rod and bring it back to the protection of his circle.’ Kelga stopped, humming thoughtfully as she pulled loop after loop of entrails out of the dying woman. ‘Strange,’ she murmured. ‘He finishes his quest . . . with an unexpected talisman.’
‘Talisman,’ the stranger repeated. ‘What kind of talisman?’
The witch shook her head. ‘I see lumen and quaire, but both talismans are taken from the Vessel.’ As she spoke, the woman atop the table relaxed, no longer fighting against Kelga’s grisly divination.
‘What more can you tell me?’
The crone swore in some dark dialect Annev did not know then frantically tore through the abdomen of the dying woman. ‘Beasts of burden,’ she said after a moment studying. ‘Abandoned. Find them and the Vessel will find you.’
The woman on the table exhaled as her body finally went limp. Kelga spat and threw her fistful of entrails back into the woman’s chest cavity.
‘Darkness and death obscure further divination. I have seen all that fate will allow.’ The old woman wiped her bloody hands on her black robes and turned to the man-in-gray. ‘I have fulfilled our bargain. If you are satisfied, I will have my prize now.’
The man at the head of the altar reached down and plucked the golden mask off the face of the dead woman. Beneath the gilded metal Annev saw red lips, delicate ivory cheekbones and soft green eyes; she had been in her mid-twenties, beautiful and vibrant with the strength of youth. It seemed strange that Annev could have felt such hate and malice from such a demure and petite young woman. The golden mask she had worn had been no less beautiful than the face beneath, yet both had contrasted with the woman’s venomous words and ferocious demeanor.
The man-in-gray wrapped the mask within the folds of his tattered robes then flicked a wrist at the young woman’s corpse. The black hands constraining the dead woman greedily pulled at her, fighting to pull her corpse into the shadows. Flesh ripped and bones cracked, and then the woman’s torso and limbs separated, the darkness swallowing her blood, flesh and bone.
Once the corpse was gone, the darkness spread out again, pooling over the surface of the table as black tentacles emerged from the shadows, pushing the first corpse through the blackness and up onto the altar’s stone surface.
Kelga looked at the disemboweled body and nodded, cackling as she grasped the balding man’s brown cloak and then pulled his corpse off the table.
Annev stared, disoriented by the sight of the witch dragging the bloody corpse to the edge of the grove.
That’s not me, Annev realised. She didn’t kill me. She killed . . . that man. Memories of being killed by the witch warred with echoes of who the stranger really was. He recalled an unstrung bow . . . wet boots . . . a cup of tea.
‘You will do one more thing for me,’ the man-in-gray said, stopping the witch before she could drag the artisan’s body into the brush.
Kelga growled, spinning on her heels as she dropped the man’s limp corpse. ‘I owe you nothing, Shadowcaster. I have fulfilled our bargain! Leave old Kelga to herself.’
‘I have need of you yet,’ the stranger said, as if that were all the justification he needed.
The seer’s milky-white orbs stared into eyes as cold as death, as if weighing what she saw there. She studied the man’s fluttering gray rags and peculiar face-wrap, then she nodded.
‘What do you require of me?’
The shadowcaster stepped away from the altar, approaching the witch. ‘I go north. You must go east and wait for the Vessel. If he finds you first, you will hold him till I return.’
The crone shook her head, frowning. ‘I am only an old woman,’ she protested. ‘This forest is wide and my strength—’
‘This forest is your home,’ the man said, ignoring the seer’s complaint. ‘And I know your secrets. You have other agents to assist you. Creatures that once served Cruithear and that now dwell here.’
Kelga huffed. ‘Those you speak of remain in the control of my sisters. I have poached a few, it is true, but they are barely more than animals.’ She sneered. ‘Could you not to teach me to command the shadows, too? We are both children of entropy and our paths are momentarily aligned. If I could command them as you do—’
‘No,’ the man said, stopping in front of the witch. ‘Your talents are too closely aligned with the dead . . . but I could give you something else.’
The old woman pursed her lips together, intrigued. ‘What?’
‘An ally. A creature that is half shadow and half spirit. One that will give you strength. Greater vision. The ability to peer into the realm of shadow – to divine more than you see now.’
‘How?’ Kelga asked, her voice filled with need. ‘What must I do?’
‘I need only call forth the appropriate eidolon.’ The man waved his hand, as if his proposal were the easiest thing in the world. ‘With the demon’s possession, your powers would enhance tenfold – and with the strength you harvest from the artisan’s body, your lifespan will also increase.’
A wicked smile appeared on Kelga’s face. Her tongue teased the sharp ends of her crooked teeth. ‘Bargain struck, Shadowcaster.’
The man-in-gray slid back the witch’s cowl and laid his hand atop her naked head. Dark shadows seeped from his fingers, staining her wispy white hair. As the inky blackness settled into the crone’s skin, the old woman began to cackle, her laugh growing in power and resonance.
‘Bargain struck,’ the man-in-gray whispered.
Annev awoke with a start, his hands reaching for something. His hair was damp with sweat and his chest heaved, but he was alive and whole.
What was that? Where am I?
He blinked, eyes adjusting to the darkness as his mind wrestled with his disorientation. He was in his bedroom, the faint glow of starlight leaking through the tiny cracks in his chamber walls. As he lay on his pallet, his breathing beginning to calm, he felt beneath the prickly straw mattress for the crimson glove Myjun had given him, safely tucked away. His fingers traced the stitching of the phoenix. Annev felt a lump inside the garment and reached inside for the promise ring he had also hidden. He swallowed hard, fighting the lump in his throat as his fingers toyed with the ring.
Why do I feel so anxious? Why are my hands trembling?
And then he recalled his nightmare. The vision had been so terrible – filled with shadows and darkness, blood and stones …
But the details were already fading, and when he fought to remember what had frightened him so badly, he could only recall the barest details: a stone table and a golden mask.
Buy the rest of Master of Sorrows and see how it fits in!