Chapter one is where things started to go wrong with Black Alchemy Hunter. <–That’s meant to be a joke, but I’m serious.
I modeled Black Alchemy Hunter after The Avengers, which is really problematic. The Avengers do a great job of opening with the villains doing a number on the good guys. For this chapter, I pitted Kode against the villains, blurring the lines between who is good and evil. Or evil and eviler.
I tried establishing Blas’ character, a womanizing power freak. He’s set up well enough, but his true villainous nature is masked by his decisions.
Another HUGE mistake I made was trying to demonize Laurent. I tried highlighting why he is an assassin, but Laurent would need an entire novel dedicated to himself in order to do that. So, this chapter moves way too fast and doesn’t cover the gap between the first and second books.
In the new story, Cullinan Diamond Hunter, I actually pick up directly where the first story left off. Sol is talking to Rayne, working to convince her to bite Celeste. All the while, Julius and Kami are still stuck in the dark zone with no way out.
Again, Black Diamond Hunter isn’t horrible, but it has too many tears in its jeans (or genes). With wear and tear, the rips widen.
1 – IN DUE TIME
Icy water skies down the slippery road that leads up the winding mountain. A shimmering blue 1964 Pontiac GTO climbs the dangerous terrain, but it sounds nothing like it did in the past. The muscle car was restored to rely heavily on magic, so the engine has lost its natural rumble and developed a more demonic and threatening roar.
The tires tear through the asphalt, increasing in speed as they approach the castle. Just as the vehicle crosses its final big turn, Blas notices a mob of ramanga blocking his path. Downshifting quickly, he turns his wheel and smashes his passenger door into a dozen bodies. The vehicle stalls momentarily as the ramanga wail wildly. The disgusting creatures throw their hands against vehicle’s steel body while Blas plays with the ignition. Once the Pontiac fires up again, he tears through the wave of beasts before him and parks outside of the castle gates.
Blas checks his silver watch, just as the barriers are raised. Three of Mother’s maidens rush out of the gate, using wind based magic to push the creatures back from the entrance. Blas calmly pulls into the lot. He removes his tablet from the dashboard and places it into his briefcase before reaching for his door. However, a hand beats him to the task.
Laurent opens the door for Blas and signals the maidens to wrap up their work at the gate. Then, he rushes behind Blas, climbing the wide and long, stone staircase that leads to the castle’s main hall. One of the maidens from the gate rushes behind the men. Like the others, she is a splitting image of Valerie, when Valerie was human. The maidens are all clone-like creatures that act according to Valerie’s will. Almost each woman remains obedient, without question, because they know that their lives depend on her survival.
The sight of the maidens still sickens Blas. He stays away from the castle in order to avoid them. When he glances over his shoulder and notices one following him, he snarls, “What’s wrong with her?”
Laurent firmly replies, “I don’t know. Mother was absorbing his lifesource, like always, but the blood suddenly turned black and she started convulsing.”
“I told you to keep all talismans away from him.”
“I was guarding him personally, Blas. There’s nothing in the room.”
They all continue marching briskly through the main corridor, passing two large, brass statues of Medusa-like creatures. The corridor leads to a stairwell that is drenched in darkness. When Blas reaches his first step, a group of fairies, known as the Aziz, emerge from the walls. The men and women only lean out far enough to hold torches high above their heads. Even with the light licking their faces, the Aziz’s rich, oily skin blends perfectly with the dark walls.
Blas rushes down the stairs while processing Laurent’s last words. He grumbles, “You’re saying the blood reacted on its own?” He removes his navy blue trilby hat and wipes sweat from his brow. “When did she stop convulsing?”
Laurent hesitantly replies, “She hasn’t. Her symptoms are like a virus that worsens with each passing hour.”
“That’s why the ramanga are out of control,” Blas mutters to himself, though Laurent overhears.
“We had to kill her personal creatures, but local maidens say that another group of ramanga will soon reach the mountain’s peak.”
“Let them in. We may need their help.”
Laurent runs back up the stairwell as Valerie’s maiden continues to follow Blas. He walks faster, nearly jogging, but she manages to keep up with his long legs and heavy pace. Even more, he can sense her aggravation, which only makes him walk faster.
“Blas,” she calls, but her shout goes unnoticed. “Hundreds of Mother’s maidens use this castle. If you let wild ramanga inside, many will die.”
“Then, you may want to get the hell out of their way,” he responds coldly.
“This is serious. These ramanga were chosen personally by Mother as a defense. Even the youngest ramanga on this mountain are more powerful than most of the restored. There’s nowhere to escape.”
“Right now, our main priority is getting Mother away from that room and extracting the blood from her system.”
“Removing the blood is a waste of time.” Just as the maiden completes her comment, she and Blas enter the lobby of a steaming dungeon.
The tropical temperature of the room is overbearing. Every corner of the room produces heat. Even the gaps between the stone walls emit steam. And the flames that the Aziz fairies hold raise the room’s temperature tremendously.
Blas continues to stare at the guard that protects the main entrance. Initially, he shows no regard for the maiden’s previous comment, but he eventually turns to her and says, “You seem to worry a lot about your own life. That’s…ignorant. Let me remind you of a well-known fact. Your life is temporary waste that depends on Mother’s survival. She’ll absorb you one day to enhance her own magic. You are one of many. So many, I’ve lost count, but I’m sure that there are thousands of others that will listen to a direct command. Now, open the door.”
The maiden furrows her brows and gulps simultaneously. She balls a tight fist and throws her hand towards the door. The guard barely manages to dodge the gust of wind that she expels, but as he rolls to the side, the metal doors are thrown open. The maiden doesn’t wait for Blas to dismiss her. She instantly marches back up the stairs.
Blas follows the gusting wind and enters the dungeon. The circular room is outfitted with nine doors that are each made of various metals, including silver, gold, iron, and bronze.
The center of the room has a single wooden slab that rests five feet from the ground. Mother is lying strapped on the table with various tubes connected to her veins. The ends of the tubes have been sliced. A black fluid has spilled onto the floor as a result of the severance.
To Blas’ surprise, Mother is not reacting as wildly as Laurent reported. In fact, she is calmly sleeping on the table under the touch of a stunningly beautiful young girl.
Captivated by her beauty, Blas approaches and asks, “Who are you?”
“Celeste. Watcher from shadows,” she replies. Celeste’s appearance has changed drastically. All of her hair has turned silver. Her body appears fuller. Curvier. She has gained nearly twenty pounds. Her eyes are black, but enchanting. They glimmer, like the color of her hair. And she speaks with a seductive tone that draws in all those that listen, like a sailor to a siren.
“Mother made you the watcher. Then, you’re the only one who knows what’s happening around here.”
“Knowing is not. But pain is certain.”
Knowing that he has been trapped by some spell, Blas looks away and sighs, “Can you speak more clearly? In English preferably.”
“Pain. Also from shadows. Demon’s attack.”
“From the shadows?” Blas echoes. “We’ll need some light. I’ll need you to cast a spell.”
“You cannot run from this shadow.”
“Why is that?”
Celeste runs her delicate fingers across Valerie’s forehead. “It is a virus that lives inside of you. Inside of us all. Mother took too much from father. Now, she suffers.”
Blas tries considering what Celeste’s riddles could mean, but he eventually gives in. Mother always chooses someone very unique to remain on the lookout for dark magic or anyone that may attack without warning. Those watchers are often mysterious and slightly delusional. But Blas has misinterpreted Celeste’s words. Her purpose isn’t to guard Valerie. Valerie captured Celeste in hopes to use her against Sol and his father.
Celeste’s mind has deteriorated since she was bitten by Rayne. The process of becoming a restored ramanga as eaten at her mind. Yet, she is perceptive enough to know the truth. A deep, dark danger lies in the shadows that surround the room. Not even the Aziz’s flames could protect them from this assault.
“Who’s guarding him?” Blas asks while staring at the seventh door, which is made of rhodium. The silvery-door has a small window with five bars that allow anyone to see inside, but Blas cannot make out the man’s face on the other side.
Celeste replies, “The one who gave me new life. Brick.”
Hearing the name sets off an alarm in Blas’ mind. He rushes to the barrier and bangs both fists against the metal. The incredible sound that he creates surprises everyone, including Brick. However, Brick has much more to fear because Blas begins screaming, “Why are you at the door if your magic is still unrestored?”
Brick fumbles with the door handle, but he eventually opens it while sputtering, “Mother keeps magic away from him. She fears that he can absorb it somehow. Most importantly, she says that all technology—”
Blas raises one finger to silence Brick. He observes the room carefully.
The space is relatively empty. More stone decorates the walls and ground. A drain sits at the center of the room, which is how the prisoner is expected to exercise his restroom privileges. On the occasion that rain occurs, like today, it also provides him with a shower.
The brutal water falls from the ceiling, striking the frail prisoner’s body. The droplets swim through his tangled hair and beard. He remains curled in a ball at the center of the room, hiding his naked body from Blas. Yet, his eyes continue to move with life, tremoring and analyzing Blas’ every step.
Blas’ eyes shift in a similar fashion. They scan the small space and search for all anomalies. “Does anything seem out of the ordinary?”
“He’s weak, like usual.” Brick steps to the side. “See for yourself.”
Walking back towards the center of the room, Blas mumbles to himself, “None of this makes sense. We’ve done this a million times.”
“I’ve been thinking. Mainly because I’ve had nothing but time to think. But maybe it has to do with the sun? It’s been slightly visible.”
“Not visible enough to summon Kode.”
“Didn’t she tell you? Sol summoned Kode by using a maiden.”
Blas’ eyes widen as the truth unveils itself, and an unknown energy reacts to his movement, causing the ground to quake mildly.
Debris falls from the ceiling and walls tremor and clammer. A gust of wind combats the overbearing heat.
Everyone reacts frightfully. Brick pushes his back against a wall. Blas and Mother’s maiden both fight to remain on their feet as the room continues to rumble. Yet, Celeste continues standing over Valerie’s body, showing no reaction to the moving room.
A bolt of clarity finally strikes Blas. He finally notices the anomaly in the room. The strangeness of the room is connected to Celeste’s words. The shadows. There are far too many shadows in the dungeon.
Taking three swift steps forward, Blas shouts, “Everyone get out of the building, now!”
The shadows move along with Blas’ cry. They assault every corner. The darkness produces a screaming hum as it whizzes through the bodies of everyone in the room.
As the darkness rises, a chill replaces the incredible heat. Vapors escape each of Blas’ breaths and a fog stirs his ankles. The overcast spreads, causing the Aziz begin to mourn when it touches the walls. Few of the fairies are able to hold onto their flames within the dark magic. The eldest fairies fight to hold their torches loosely, but even they are on the verge of fainting.
Brick holds one hand over his heart at the room continues to resemble his nightmares. Since he was accidentally resurrected by Sol, Brick has suffered through countless nights, dreaming of the shadows finding him once more. He fears becoming a ramanga again as much as he yearns for the power that it presented. Still, no nightmare is as terrifying as Valerie and she has given him one task, to prevent the prisoner from escaping.
Snapping out of his trance, Brick fumbles with the keys once more and rushes to the door. However, just as he fights to close the barrier, a hand appears from the shadows. It forms into the body of a massive, towering demon. Kode Payne.
The demon grabs Brick’s collar and throws him clear across the room. Brick lands hard on his spine, causing a ringing sensation to tickle his ears. As the throbbing disappears, he notices an even more terrifying sound. The cry of ramanga.
Several creatures rush into the dungeon, hungry for blood. Using his darkest magic, Brick controls the minds of the six creatures and send them after Kode. With a grin etched across his lips, the demon rushes forward to meet them in the center of the room. His first strike shreds through a ramanga’s torso. The other five creatures are put to rest not long after.
Disappointed in their fight, Kode pouts slightly. Then, he waves his hand in an arc, sending a violent energy through the room. Even Celeste is knocked from her feet.
Everyone struggles to fight the ringing in their ears. They can only watch as the demon approaches the seventh door. He greets the prisoner by gently waving his hand. “Hey, Seth. The caveman look is good on you.”
“Move any closer to her and I’ll tear your head off.”
Kode hears the threat, but hardly finds the time to glance over his shoulder or notice the enforcer. She is one of Mother’s maidens, and the brute is not like the others. In short, she’s big. The maiden is both muscular and tall. She was bred to challenge someone of Kode’s size, or anyone that trespasses inside of the castle.
Intentionally tempting the maiden, Kode takes exactly one step forward. In order to make good on her threat, the maiden rushes into the room. She disappears from Blas’ view. Before he can realize what is happening, Blas witnesses blood exiting the room.
Finally returning to his feet, Blas staggers towards the room to determine what happened. Yet, his progress is halted. Kode exits the room while acting as Leonardo Ruby’s crutch. The black alchemist is wearing the maiden’s pants, though there are drops of blood from her sudden death.
Leonardo hasn’t seen anything outside of his prison walls in years. His daughter is the first few of this new world. Yet, due to his weakened eyesight and her age, he doesn’t recognize her.
Blas stands in Kode’s way, blocking the exit.
Turning to Blas, Kode sighs, “Do you really plan to stand in my way because I have a thing for seeing blood splattered across walls.”
Still shaking off Kode’s first attack, Blas groans, “You’re not walking out of here with him. Not alive.”
Kode glances back into the room where the maiden’s body lies. “The last person to threaten me didn’t seem to realize who she was talking to, so let me introduce myself.”
“You’re Kode Payne. I know who you are, and I will not allow you to wreak havoc on our world, demon.”
“That’s a little harsh. You have no idea what it’s like to be labeled a demon for most of your life. Here I am, heroically saving a man that has been tortured for the past seven years, and you have the nerve to condemn me.”
Blas snarls, “Why would you aid that filth?”
“Filth? He could use a shower, but he’s more than filth.” Kode sniffs Leonardo and shakes his head. “Seth is more like a fungus. A virus.”
“Virus? I’ve heard that words three times since my arrival.”
“Fate is a very strange woman that loves both Drama and Irony. I once saw them making out. It was…tempting.”
“Is that supposed to mean something to me?”
Brick finally manages to sit upright, though his spine is sore. “Blas!” he utters. “Kode isn’t the threat. His power hasn’t fully returned yet. But Mother keeps Leonardo away from technology because he can absorb and use it.”
Blas takes a step closer to Kode and Leonardo. He chants a short spell and generates an orb. The increased visibility helps Blas notice the beads of sweat on Kode’s brow. The demon is breathing heavily and he isn’t holding Leonardo up anymore. In fact, Leonardo is holding Kode.
Still masking the tiredness in his voice, Kode jeers, “Don’t listen to that silly man, Blas. Mother keeps all technology far away from this mountain. No cars, watches, tablets…you know, the things that every man needs.”
A chill stretches down Blas’ spine. He lifts his arm and pulls back his sleeve. Around his watch are thousands of tiny bugs that are eating away at the device. Panicking, he takes a few steps back to where he dropped his briefcase, beside Valerie’s bed. Inside, he finds millions of the bugs, which have devoured his tablet and everything else that contains circuits.
Leonardo’s stature changes almost instantly. He soon corrects his posture and steadies his breath. The pale color of his flesh wanes, breathing liveliness to his unique brown complexion. The tiny, digital bugs fly away from Blas’ devices and attach themselves to Leonardo.
Brick cries, “Leonardo is the strongest mage beside Mother. We need to get out of here.”
Chuckling beneath his breath, Kode corrects, “Two things. Leonardo is an alchemist not a mage. Secondly, he’s far stronger than Valerie.”
Blas steps forward to challenge the black alchemist, but Leonardo’s body is replaced by the digital bugs. He and Kode are covered by the insects. When Blas finally strikes Leonardo, the bugs scatter and exit the dungeon.
Blas shouts violently. The shout motivates Celeste to finally rise to her feet as well. She notices a few bugs flying from Blas’ briefcase. The insects remind her of something strange from her childhood. Intrigued, she lifts the briefcase and observes several bugs that slowly follow the larger swarm. Shaking her head, she drones, “Deceived by need. Now needs precede perception.”
Angrily, Blas grabs the bag from Celeste’s hands and throws it across the room. He tries rushing up the stairs in hopes of pursuing the escapees, but a demonic howl nearly causes him to jump back. The howl is followed by a scratching sound, which echoes inside of the dungeon. As the scratching magnifies, gentle vibrations travel through the walls.
The room darkens as Blas’ orb wanes. Now, only one of the fairies are able to hold onto their flames, and his light struggles to combat Kode’s shadows.
Blas backs away, directing his steps towards Celeste. His breaths continue to generate vapors. Now, the vapors are short and frantic. They mimic the drums beating in his chest.
He tries reaching for one of the fallen torches, but just as he bends over, a fleshless face leans in to nearly kiss his cheek. Blas falls back and scoots back. He fumbles over his words when reproducing the orb in his hand. With the light returned, he can see that he and the others are surrounded by dozens of ramanga. Several of the creatures are scaling the walls. Others are circling Mother. Yet, most of the creatures have turned their attention to Blas. The light in his hand aggravates them. They view him as an enemy; one that can be devoured.
As the creatures shuffled and scurry towards him, Blas remembers Mother’s maiden. She warned him about the danger of allowing the ramanga in the castle. They are now working to keep Kode inside of the castle, but they are also preventing Blas from chasing the demon.