Ten Rings (Prologue)

The following excerpt is from a novel I have been working on the last few months titled, The Ten Rings. The story focuses around a world called Pharanx that is recovering from a worldwide attack by a species called the Brack. This prologue takes place several years after the defeat of the Brack we are following Artificer Nery as she is a scientist studying the island the fabled Brack were defeated. She is trying to analyze the environment for any new signs of the Species as well as examining the site where they were defeated

. I have been enjoying working this way as it is so different than traditional comics work. I still fleshed out some of the main characters with digital illustrations which I have included here. I hope you enjoy this passage and look forward to sharing more written content on the site soon.

thanks for reading!

Brandon


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Prologue.

Artificer Nery was exhausted.

She had spent the better part of 3 days traversing the most remote parts of the Isle of Ushor. Ushor was settled in the southern Hemisphere of Pharanx, just west of the southern continent Stous. Ushor was an island home to a lush tropical jungle that teemed with life.Nery’s team of artificers had been deployed to the site to run routine scans of the Jungle to be sure no signs of the Phantoms had returned.

Phantoms.

The demonic creatures entirely composed of fire had not been seen in almost a decade. Strange tales of their terror and misdeeds still captivated the public, which in turn continued to stir the pandemic of fear. As a result, Nery and her team get deployed to the island every 6 months.

She removed her mouth covering, sweat drenched her smooth pale face. They were made to wear extra protective gear here as the acidic rains tend to occur frequently in the south. The jacket was a yellow one piece that covered from Nery’s forehead down to her ankles. Thick layered boots and gloves which were treated with limestone to protect against the acid. Nery found these precautions cumbersome but necessary to not lose a hand.

Character designs for the Ten Rings; Mercurio and Xaxel.

The result of this rain? More respiratory difficulties; infections, fluid buildup and all around sickness. Most average citizens wore coverings when exiting the keep or home and the majority wear protective gloves.

Nery stepped through a patch of striped reeds that resemble bamboo. Thick dew stuck to her covered arms as she passed through, holding up a small device to scan the gaseous clouds that hovered overhead.

“Any new readings, Nery?”

She stopped looking to the radio attached to her belt. Dispatch was checking in just as frequently as if the Twilight had just happened. She picked up the device and pressed the side button to talk back.

“Nothing out of the usual, Utoni.” She replied.

The radio clipped back onto her belt, Nery pulled her protective mask up over her mouth and pressed through the trees and into the gas. The thick red smog hovered high above the yellow trees, rotting and eating away at the trunk. 

“I spoke too soon, Utoni. I’ve got a red cluster.” Nery smiled, planting a foot firmly against the trunk of the tree.

The cloud hovered ominously above her in its red intensity. She could make out leaves from the tree shrivelling and disintegrating from the acid in the clouds make up. Nery was no stranger to the clouds and they were her early interest in studying the Twilight’s impacts on the ecosystem. With her foot firmly in place she hoisted herself up onto the first branch to get a better look at the cloud. It pulsed as it ripped through another dangling branch, reducing it to splinters that burned with heat. 

“You have some measurements on that Nery?”

She paused in the tree to grab her communication link from her belt once more.

“I’m approaching now, any word on the hands free sets? Needing to juggle between grabbing the com is going to lead to an accident.”

“…No word yet.” Utoni replied gravely.

Nery rolled her eyes and pulled herself up onto the next level of branches, her muscles flexed under the strain. Within a minute Nery was closer to the cluster but still at a safe distance below. She removed a disc from her belt pouch and combined it with another square device that was emitting a low level beeping noise.

Character designs for the Ten Rings; Amut and Gabrel.

She extended her arm upward toward the cluster and pressed the center of the disc which caused it to start spinning.

“This is Artificer Nery recording Red Cluster specimen this Nuen on 6th cycle. I have observed the cluster in the central forest of Ushor. The cluster has remained stationary by a Tamden Tree, it appears to be stuck on the tree. I can visually confirm the acidic content of the cluster as the tree is rotting away from contact. I will sample this Tamden for any nutrients that could be vital to the cluster.”

Nery pressed a switch on her protective suit just under her jaw to pause the recording. A thin beam of light emerged from the disc, passing over the cloud and generating beeps from her arm attachment.

“How we looking Nery?” her com buzzed once more.

The cluster shifted as the com buzzed, the edge of the cloud seeming to darken into an inky black before returning to normal. Nery’s eyes widened in shock. She ignored the com and checked her wrist scanner instead. Dozens of symbols flashed before her eyes recording the phenomenon. Nery used her free hand to grab another nearby branch and pull her body closer to the cluster to get a better look. The branches were slippery with dew which caused her to slide initially before catching her balance.

“Nery do you copy?”

She placed a knee firmly against the main trunk of the Tamden tree and steadied her back against a lateral branch from behind her. Nery’s wrist scanner had started to quicken in pace and spit out several more chirps and symbols. The com crackled in deviance as Utoni was undoubtedly paging her again.

The cluster continued to hover, another smaller branch splintered and tumbled below as the acid ate through it.

“Hello, Neary do you copy?!” Utoni blazed once more.

She growled in frustration grabbing for her com in a frenzied hurry. She wrenched it from her belt pouch and yelled into it with clenched teeth. “YES UTONI, I HEAR YOU AND I AM-”

The branch behind Nery cracked and split, her body slid through the opening and was free falling through the air. The world flashed in a technicolor wonder which ended in an abrupt thud. Neary had stopped falling and pain shot through her leg like a hot knife.

Her com crackling still, Neary tried to roll away from the trunk of the tree. Her legs had become ensnared by the roots that created a nest formation on the ground. She breathed heavily, kicking with her good leg to try and free herself of the tree’s roots. 

“Ner-are you there-nery?!”

Her head swam with nausea from the fall but was nothing compared to her leg. Digging her fingers into the ground, Nery pulled her body away from the Tamden tree and toward her com on the ground. She crawled toward it like a wounded animal, the side of her face was sporting a fresh bloody wound. She snatched the com off the forest floor and hissed into it.

“I’m here. I’m…hurt.” She winced.

The com crackled in response “I’ll send bravo team members to retrieve you, just stay put.”

Nery nodded in acknowledgement and then rolled onto her back, exhausted. Her temples were throbbing and the pain was starting to make her feel sick. 

And the smell, that lingering decaying smell now present. Where was it coming from?

Character designs from the Ten Rings; The Sign Guard

Her brilliant green eyes fluttered open and she attempted to sit up. Nery’s head swam with nausea once more and she fell back onto the heavily leafed floor. There had to be a dead animal nearby she thought, at least that will deter another animal from eating me.

Leaves cracked just beyond Nerys line of vision which gave her a start.

“Hello?” She called out, “is that anyone from Bravo?”

No response returned, just more cracking leaves indicating something moving through the forest. Her heart raced in panic at the idea of being an easy meal. Nery dug her fingers into the earth and pulled herself up and onto her side with a yelp of pain. She used the momentum to continue to drag herself along the leafy ground.

Another wave of decay washed over her as she crawled pushing her further into sickness. She noticed the color in the leaves was dimming; she was going to faint. Her world began to darken, vision spinning in a miserable combination of sickness and disorientation. From just behind her another branch cracked and splintered.

She rolled over and found herself facing a horror.

It looked to be the remains of a man, heavily decayed, with flesh hanging off of shiny pale bones. Long dark hair protruded from the remains of the scalp and swayed as the man stumbled toward her. It was walking!

Nery shuddered in fear trying to drag herself away from the creature. The smell was invading her nostrils causing her to gag and spit. As the man shuffled toward her she noticed something shiny and inky black. A dark liquid spilling out from an old wound in the corpses neck was travelling like a self sustaining spider web all over the top of his body. Not only was it spreading it was filling and expanding as if something was breathing air into the tendrils. 

“Get away!” she coughed, trying to pull herself backwards.

The black web pooled around the corpse’s eyes and began to shimmer. When the web moved two shrewd eyes remained in the empty sockets place, just as dark and black as the web. The figure was…rebuilding itself. Large pieces of missing neck tissue swelled and regrew, tight pale skin stretching like meat casing back over its appendages. The haunting dark eyes found hers and the damaged mouth gnashed with broken teeth trying to speak to her.

Nery frantically tried to adjust settings on her wrist scanner, there had to be some setting or defense she could deploy. Her fingers pounded on the keys embedded into the panel until a sudden piercing pain caused her to stop. 

One of the thin web like tendrils had leaped off of the corpse and pushed its way through her protective gear and into her hand. She felt the black ink invade her hand, eating away and burning her bones from the inside. Nery tried to cry out in pain but in seconds she was overtaken.

The last few tendrils of black web returned to the corpse, finalizing its rebuild. The man stood tall, clothes still shredded from whatever had killed him here. His frame was muscular and imposing as he stood almost level with the Tamden trees around him. The black webbing reduced in area, seemingly retreating to the man’s left hand. It continued to shrink and disappear until finally smoothing out into a pearlescent silver ring on his finger, inset with a jet black stone in the center.

The man gazed down at the black stone for several minutes, not moving or speaking. With a sudden lurch, he stalked off into the thick reeds of the Ushor forest without looking back.

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