The 2nd fantasy novel by C.D. Pennington
A year since Seleen Holt’s sudden disappearance, Barrador refuses to accept his wife is gone forever.
Struggling to cope with her absence, Barrador finally finds something to take his mind off his beloved Seleen when several villagers mysteriously vanish from their homes.Following a series of disturbing and inexplicable events at his home, Barrador – and his faithful companion, the majestic white tiger Naluca – discover a harrowing link between the hauntings and the disappearances.
As Barrador delves deeper into the mystery paralysing Arthingdale, nothing can prepare him for what he uncovers.Mysterious black candles.
Bones that walk. A priest with a dark history. And the rarest of white tigers.‘Nine Lives.’ The 2nd fantasy novel by C.D. Pennington is available now.
Here’s a sample of the first few paragraphs from the first few chapters (not the entire chapters):
Terrible screaming awoke him from his slumber, yet he did not remember falling asleep. And now – jolted from his rest – he had no idea where he was. He shivered as yet another long, agonised scream from somewhere in the distance met his alert ears. Yet it was not cold that made him shiver.
It was fear.
His fur stood up straight on his arched back as he gingerly rose on four large white paws, a long stripy tail unfurling from beneath him. He growled, sparkling blue eyes darting around the narrow room in which he found himself. He slunk in the corner of a long corridor that snaked its way out of his sight. Cold, damp walls of stone surrounded him, forcing him to follow the snaking path.
The dimly lit corridor glowed an eerie red, the source of which was not apparent. But with excellent vision in the dark, the gloom did not affect him too much, and he was able to see well enough. Not that there was much to see, for the corridor was empty. On strong but somewhat shaky legs, he skulked forward, keeping himself as much in the shadows as he could. An unfamiliar feeling threatened to claim him as he crept along, and the need to find his way out increased with each step he took. He quickened his pace.
His keen nose detected a familiar smell lingering in the air between the dank walls of the corridor. At first, he could not recollect it, but as he crept further along the wall, the odour became stronger and more recognisable.
He had made countless kills when he had been alive, so he knew the scent well. He was so used to being the predator, yet in this place he felt very much like the prey.
He had to get out, just as the human woman had told him to.
The corridor bent around before opening up into a large cavern-like area where the screams were louder and the shadows deeper. Perched on a ledge near the top of the cavern, he looked down into the same eerie red glow that lit the corridor. Things were moving below him, black shapes that he could not make out, drifting in and out of the shadows. Some of the forms rose upwards and glided through the air before drifting back down again, but the shapes were still not anything he recognised. He slunk down against the wall and followed the ledge, keeping a wary eye on the floating shadows below.
CHAPTER 1 – An Unwelcome Disturbance
“It has been almost a year, my love.” Barrador Holt took another long gulp from his wine goblet, staring into the flames that blazed away in the stone hearth. “Seems like only yesterday, so it does. When will you come back to me?” Just like every other night, he did not receive an answer to his question, other than the crackle and the spit from burning logs.
Barrador had been sitting in his chair for most of the evening. It was still daylight when he had taken his seat, but now the only light in the room was that coming from the glow in the hearth. Tonight was his night off, and he had come to hate the nights he did not work. He had even put himself down for any extra nightshifts he could get, to save him from having to spend the cold, dark evenings alone. The Watch had been sympathetic to him and given him the shifts he craved at first, but that was almost a year ago, and now the other guards wanted extra hours for their own reasons – mainly the gold. Barrador didn’t care about the gold; he had enough to be comfortable. He only wanted the work to get away from the four walls of his house at night.
Wintertime had firmly bitten its teeth into the village of Arthingdale, which meant the days were shorter and the nights longer. This night was a particularly bad one, the wind howling and the rain pounding against the window shutters like scores of tiny fingers incessantly drumming on the wooden screens. Being a coastal village on the northeastern peninsula of Evorene, the unforgiving wind gusted inland with the waves of the Halgarn Sea, crashing against the limestone cliffs upon which the community sat. This night was so bad even Naluca hadn’t wanted to go out and hunt, the great white tiger fast asleep by his master’s feet in front of the fire. Some nights, Barrador would go out with him to pass the time and take his mind off Seleen. He missed her so much, but for some reason, tonight had affected him more than usual.
The years had not been kind to Barrador, the last one especially. His lank, shoulder-length dark hair was greying at the tips and in dire need of a wash, as well as thinning badly on top and receding at the front. He was forty-one years old, yet he looked much older. Bags threatened to appear under his dark eyes from many a sleepless night and too much wine, and a thick, ungainly stubble grew on his chin. Not that he cared a jot about his appearance anymore; until Seleen was found, personal grooming was the least of his worries.
Draining his goblet, Barrador reached for a pewter flagon and cursed when he found it empty. He flung it across the room in disgust, the metallic container clanging off the wooden floor. The commotion roused Naluca from his slumber, and he growled at the disturbance but quickly settled again once satisfied there was nothing worthy of rising for.
CHAPTER 2 – The Graverobbers
High up in a nearby tree, the haunting call of an owl reminded the two men they were not alone in the moonlit graveyard.
The call of the nocturnal bird was unmistakable, but for Johan Tidewell, it was also a warning that although not always visible, presences other than their own may well be in the vicinity. It was a harrowing thought, as if it were not intimidating enough to be sneaking around a graveyard in the dead of night.
Winter had cast its icy fingers on the ground, causing the frozen grass underfoot to crunch with every step they took. It was impossible to be silent. But so far, nothing except the owl had made themselves known to the two graverobbers. Johan hoped this would continue until they were long gone with whatever riches they may find.
Johan and his friend Neal Fleming could not have believed their luck when they stumbled upon this abandoned church and its graves, hidden away deep in the Durzen forest. There was only one church back in Arthingdale, and they had already harvested most of the village graves’ resources long since. They were broadening their horizons of late, and the southern town of Harron seemed a reasonably affluent place to earn a dishonest living, but they had left there earlier with nothing to show from their long trek through the forest.
Not long since, they had fled from the small house they had been looting when the owner unexpectedly returned with a mistress to find them rifling through a chest in the living room. Thankfully for them, he looked as shocked as they did, which allowed them time to escape through the back door which had been left open from when they entered. The homeowner was a big man, and not as quick as the two smaller thieves, so they escaped pretty easily in the end. Back into the forest they ran, empty-handed but grateful to be unharmed. But somehow, they had managed to get themselves lost, which was strange in the forest they usually knew so well, even in the dark. The night had seemed unusually dark tonight, even though it had stopped raining and most of the clouds had dispersed before they had even entered the wooden house. They had dashed between the tall trees until their lungs could bear it no longer and they had to stop, gasping for air, wheezing breaths escaping their panting mouths like small clouds in the cold air. As regular breathing eventually returned to them, the thieves realised they had no idea where they were.
Whichever way they walked through the dense forest, the river they sought was nowhere to be found; they used the small Margrash river to work out their position relative to the village of Arthingdale. But tonight, as they fled the town of Harron on the south side of the forest, the river eluded them. They had wandered for what seemed like hours trying to find it, but instead of locating the rushing waters of the Margrash, they instead found what they deemed to be a far greater prize – the abandoned churchyard. And it was here that they now lurked, trying as best they could to make sure they were alone as moonlight cast its ethereal aura over the dark, foreboding church and its grounds.
CHAPTER 3 – A Mystery Deepens
Naluca lay by his master, the roughness of his long tongue scraping against the stubble of Barrador’s beard. At the bottom of the stairs, Barrador remained unconscious, Naluca occasionally nuzzling at his face in an attempt to awaken his master.
The darkness of the night had given way to early dawn, but with most of the shutters still closed, the house remained dim. A scant few shafts of pale morning light breached the older shutters that did not properly close, giving at least some light to the small, shadowy hallway.
When his master did not stir, Naluca rested his chin on an unmoving, outstretched arm. Yet the tiger could not find rest and had remained fully awake and alert since the accident.
Morning had fully broken by the time Barrador stirred. His eyes flickered open, but they were not yet ready to register their surroundings. Naluca felt his master’s movements, rising from his vigil to lick his sandy tongue on Barrador’s face with renewed vigour. Barrador groaned as senses slowly returned, and pain set in. Looking around, he recognised being at the bottom of the stairs, but with no idea how he got there. He tasted blood in his mouth and felt the coarse tongue of his loyal companion on his face. His right eye was swollen and painful, and his bottom lip felt unusually large and ungainly. As he attempted to lift himself off the ground, searing pain shot through his left shoulder and left knee, like he had just been stabbed with a hot poker. He roared in pain, gritting his teeth. Ignoring the knee for the moment, he massaged his shoulder, relieved to discover that nothing appeared to be out of place. Before long, movement had returned to the aching joint, and he was able to inspect the rest of his battered body.
Blood seeped from his burst lip, and further traces of blood could be found on his fingertips as he inspected the cut above his eye that had swollen, restricting his vision. His knee hurt tremendously, but as he massaged it and began to move it once more, the memory of falling down the stairs returned to him slowly. It was astonishing he had not done himself more serious damage, but what had actually happened? He had tripped over Naluca, and that was the last he recalled. But why? Why did I not see him before stumbling? He’s certainly big enough.
It was the bedroom; I was fleeing in the dark. But from what? The horrors of the previous night then started to flood back to him – the banging, the shutters, the footsteps.
The footsteps. Holy fuck, the footsteps.
Heart rate rising, he remembered the dark room, the eerie footsteps coming towards him – all the way towards him until they could get no closer.