by DAVID R. DOWNING
The giant squatted closely beside the fire and held the severed head above the flames. Carefully, so as not to singe the thick hair, he cauterized the ragged edges of what remained of the neck until blood no longer splattered onto the flaming logs below.
On the far side of the crude fire pit, which was set in a hollow space in the cave’s damp walls, was a large vat filled with the giant’s gruesome meal. Reddish and gray, steaming and bubbling, the rolling liquid occasionally revealed the nature of its contents. A hand, a foot, a severed leg with the stewed meat barely clinging to the softening bones, all floated briefly to the surface before being carried back down into the depths of the black metal cauldron...
There was something special about this head. The deep brow and high-bony cheeks were features unlike any that he had seen before. There had been a wildness to this prey – a raw, natural, ferocity that the giant could understand. But this, in itself, wasn’t what made the head special. It was something else.
Carefully the giant forced back the eyelids to look once again into the eyes. Severed, boiled, and preserved, the gaze was unaltered. It was the eyes that somehow broke through the giant’s harsh understanding of the world. In death, as in the last moments of life, they burned their image into the giant’s psyche and gave the beast an uneasy feeling – something that he was not accustomed to. In the flickering light of the giant’s lair, the head returned the giant’s stare.
In those eyes there was no life. But neither was there fear.
I’ve been recording stories since I was a teenager. The problem, however, is that most of those stories ended up on scraps of paper, or simply images in my memory. It wasn’t until early 2005 that I started to get serious about completing some of those sketchy ideas and submit real stories for publication. I was surprised at the results… some of the stories flew directly from my keyboard to the publisher's acceptance. Others, including many of my favorites, I just couldn’t get published regardless of the amount of time I spent tweaking and improving my delivery. Strange world this. The results, while not overly impressive were still encouraging. This nerdy Chemical Engineer managed to see about a dozen stories into print.
After cutting my teeth on short stories I completed “Jeremy’s Bell”, a Christmas Novella. This book was inspired by my childhood in the poorer section of Albuquerque’s South Valley. To my astonishment, the story came together quite easily and really seemed to flow. The message behind the book means a lot to me. Someday, I hope to see this published. As Pastor Stephen would say “May it be the best present you have ever received.”
Taking this accomplishment as a personal success, I took the next step with Kalat, and “The Executioner”. To my great honor and pleasure this manuscript managed to catch the eye of Trident Media Group in New York City. I am humbled to say that I am now represented by one of the premier author agencies in the world. Who would have guessed that my first attempt at a real Novel-length book would, at this very moment, be sitting on the editor’s desk of one of the nations’ largest publishers of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I couldn’t be more pleased with the service I’ve thus far received from Trident. They have taken this simple desert rat to the big city.
THE DRAGON PRINCESS
by DAVID R. DOWNING
Come in traveler. It grows dark outside and it is time to take shelter and rest. These winter nights are long, already the evening winds rattle against the shutters of my inn. But inside the fire is warm and the ale flows freely. So come on in, settle down, and relax.
A band of minstrels, passing through our humble village, have agreed to provide this evening’s entertainment. Their music is proclaimed from here to the rivers as the best heard in years. They should be arriving shortly. In the meantime, let me tell you a story to while away the time. Here, sit, and listen to my tale.
Take this bench close to the hearth. As your nose has already determined, the roast will be ready soon. A few more turns of the spit and we will all share the bounty. Let me cut a piece for you to sample. Oh, it is well seasoned and moist. I can tell that you like it. Take this flagon to quench your thirst while we wait. Your lips are parched and dry. These cold winds draw the moisture from the freshest face, but this draught will refresh you in short order. It is my own special brew, blended with a few ingredients not common in these parts. I have plenty more kegged away in the basement of this old inn.
Yes, of course, it is included in the fare for the evening. Drink all that you please. I’ll ensure that my staff does not allow your mug to go dry.
You are welcome, my friend...
The tale you ask? Well, it is a story set in a land very unlike ours. It is a land of sunshine, of open seas, and of sandy beaches encircling a myriad of small islands. This is the land known as Freasea; home of the Seaborne and the Wind Riders, a land of seafaring men and of sturdy vessels that brave the ocean seas.
Ideally situated is this land, such that many a trading ship plies the waters, and peoples from all edges of the sea come together to exchange thoughts, wares, and stories. As such, it is a prosperous and profitable land, and the many island nations there teem with the activity of a wealthy and stable state.
All the islands that is, save one...
Go for the heart:
There is a simple motto for my writing; "go for the heart". I try and keep that in mind at all times, but especially when I'm stuck on something or just lost and don't know where to go next. In essence, it reminds me to let it all hang out; say things that I wouldn't actually say, be more vicious and cruel than would be my nature, and to be more honorable and decent than I could ever actually be. It is a motto that reminds me to make my characters more than myself; to make them be characters that readers would fear, hate, or love.
In fight scenes, I use this to try and bring some of the realism and horror into the conflict. Kalat's cold and bloody encounters, Pernyi's unfaltering vengeance, and The Lost Legion's cruel efficiency at organized killing, are all designed to "Go for the heart".
Ifriti's overpowering power, the Natrum's mysterious hatred, and Surtr's monstrous toying with his Viking captives are all aimed for the heart of fear.
Perhaps the strongest emotion that we possess is love. I believe that this emotion, more than any other, drives people's actions. Love is strong and powerful. So is loss and want. I try and use these strong feelings to give my characters more depth and feeling. As always... I "Go for the heart"!