aNewDomain — The novelist Jason Dias’ newest fantasy novel is out. For Love of Their Children is available today, and Jason also happens to be one of our lead columnists here at aNewDomain. Here’s a chapter we selected to give you a feel for this hot new work, an epic fantasy set in an analogue of ancient Egypt. Enjoy. gs
Among The Dead
by Jason Dias
The Gravetender sat atop his favorite tomb, watching the stars. The night was cooler than usual, and a light breeze ruffled his clothing. Tonight he wore a cloak in deep purple, the color very expensive and marking him clearly as one of high status – although out here there were only the dead to see.
On his mind was the tomb for the boy, Vault. It would be needed soon and was near completion, but not near enough for his comfort. The last thing he needed was an elephant skull to hang over the entryway. But he had not seen the right one, not yet.
Worry made the stars less interesting. He loved to stare off into the vast distances of space and wonder, just not tonight. Perhaps an encounter with the finite rather than the infinite would serve to sooth his nerves. Rather than sit atop the tomb, perhaps he should take a walk through the inside. There were traps for the unwary, to be sure, but the Gravetender knew his way through sure enough.
There was a service entrance down the East side of the pyramid. Even stone needed cleaning and maintenance to last for eternity – but even without any such care most of these edifices were fated to last millennia. There was a torch just inside the cunning stone door, and a flint and steel to kindle a flame. The corridor was plain dressed stone, none of the markings, paintings, reliefs or jewels of the main entrance. This was a place for slaves. The Gravetender walked slowly, with an eye for weight-bearing stones. Above, great mountains of rock pressed together against certain key points. In most places cracking was irrelevant. In those meeting points, cracks would prove fatal flaws in the construction, render them unsafe.
Even looking for such cracks is without meaning, the Gravetender decided along the way. There was, after all, not one thing to be done about it if cracks appeared. Removing any of the master stones would result in the collapse of the whole structure. The Gravetender laughed at himself for retreating from the eternity in the sky to seek it down here among the stones. No, collapse was inevitable.
So he went instead to the Grand Gallery, the place where the old King was interred. He had a room to himself, a square floor eighteen feet on a side, tapering to two-thirds that length at the ceiling. The King lay wrapped in his linens, inside a lacquered wooden box, inside a great gold box, on this stone plinth under a million tons of stone. There was finitude. Perhaps his soul wandered among the stars, but more likely he was just gone. Nothing but a withered, dried corpse, all his organs drying in jars all around. Even his penis was in one of those jars.
“No tomb for me,” the Gravetender muttered. His own fate was to lie wherever he fell, his corpse unfound and untended, to be eaten by wild animals. Perhaps crocodiles would find him. Rather than being kept from the universe however temporarily through mummification, he would reenter it directly through the alimentary canals of reptiles. There was comfort in that.
He thought of reptiles as he exited the grand gallery and walked through the main entrance, sealed these forty years by elephant-sized stones in drifts like fine sand. There were the old King’s guardians: big men with broad shoulders now withered by desiccation, wrapped in linens, their body cavities full of spiced sand. In this life they were grotesques to frighten children; in the afterlife, perhaps, fearsome monstrosities. All the King’s men had been beheaded after drinking the tombshade poison, their heads replaced with those of crocodiles. A double row of them flanked this hallway, crocodile grins champing at a dark eternity.
“That’s enough of mortality for me for the night,” the Gravetender muttered, unaware he talked to himself. He decided to go view the progress on Vault’s vault with his own eyes. Behind him though, as he approached the Grand Gallery again on the way back to the maintenance entrance, he heard a sound.
The Tombs were almost always the quietest places in the world. Nothing moved inside. Sometimes they failed and that was loud but one did not survive a tomb failure. Sometimes sand found its way inside but only rarely, and then there was nothing to move it. It was eerie here among the dead; perhaps his mind played tricks on him, heard things because there was nothing to hear.
He turned, took his now-guttering torch back the way he had come. Was one of the crocodilian guards just slightly out of place? Had its drying tendons chosen that particular time to turn its head in a parody of living movement?
“Even life and death?” the Gravetender muttered as the guard turned to face him, its jaws impossibly smiling. He hurriedly left it there in the dark, harmless behind great stone doors. The last hallway he walked in darkness as the torch used up its fuel. It lay somewhere behind him, never to be found. This tomb would be sealed now for all time. After all, if one of the blocks cracked, there was nothing that could be done …
“For Love of Their Children” is available beginning today on Amazon and fine bookstores everywhere.