Raven's Rise: Prologue
This is the opening of Raven's Rise. It clocks in at over 115,000 words and is the longest of the trilogy by far.
Don't worry, I fully plan to continue going forward with these characters in multiple books to come, so there will be plenty more of World on Fire!
As soon as Matt Eicholt stepped inside his quiet little church in the center of Phnom Penh, something felt terribly wrong. The lights remained off, just as he expected, but he could feel the presence of someone else hiding in the room.
The mere fact that they hid from him filled him with concern. He couldn’t see anyone but could tell they hid there.
“Hello?” he called out in Khmer. “Who’s there?”
No response. He tried English as well, but still, no answer came. Probably kids hiding away from their mothers. He’d experienced situations like this many times in the past, finding children avoiding their schoolwork or chores, though not usually this late in the day.
No doubt, they hid from him as well, hoping he wouldn’t return them to their angry parents.
However, something about the situation made him worry, and even though wayward children seemed the likeliest scenario, something told him that this case differed.
Matt walked across the hardwood floor toward the front of the church and to the light switch. Wary and uncomfortable, he felt unsure what might be afoot but also afraid he would miss his dinner appointment.
He used the light spilling in through the open doorway to navigate between the wooden pews toward the front, keeping his eyes open for any trespassers.
He made it to the far side of the room and felt around for the switch. It took a few seconds for his fingers to find it in the darkness, and then he flicked it on.
Nothing happened. The room remained dark.
Suddenly, the door behind him swung closed with a crash, casting him into complete darkness.
A shiver danced across his spine, and he backed up against the wall, willing his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Someone stood inside the room with him, and a tinge of panic rushed through his body.
“Who’s there?” he asked in Khmer. “Come out where I can see you.”
“Why would I do that?” a woman asked in English from across the room. She sounded young, with a sultry voice.
“Who are you? Why are you in my church?”
“Maybe I came here looking for God.”
She sounded closer this time as if she’d moved across the room toward him. He listened but couldn’t hear any footsteps tapping across the wooden floor.
“He does hide in the most unexpected places,” the woman said.
“What do you want?”
“I want you, Matthew. You have no idea how much you mean to me.”
“Yes, you. You make the last piece of my puzzle. The light at the end of my tunnel. Matthew. I like your name. So Biblical.”
He backed away slowly, one hand on the wall. He aimed to move away from the approaching voice and head for a door at the back of the cathedral. One he kept locked normally, and that exited into a back alleyway.
His eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the darkness, and he bumped into a pew while he scrambled through the church, knocking it sideways to scrape across the floor.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she asked, a few steps to his left. “Our fun has only just begun.”
“Stay away from me.”
“I couldn’t stay apart from you any more than a moth can from a flame.”
Suddenly, the door to the church blasted open, pouring bright sunlight in once more. A wretched-looking woman stood in front of him, maybe two meters away. She appeared of Indian descent, though pale. Pockmarks and rashes covering her skin and face gave her a sickly appearance.
The woman turned toward the door and let out a laugh when the light came in.
“I wondered when you would show up.”
Matt glanced over. Another person stood the doorway. This one silhouetted by the sunlight, which made it impossible to make out the features or see the face.
“Matt, run!” the person in the doorway—a woman—yelled.
The newcomer’s arm flew up, and a thunderous roar of gunshots filled his tiny church. On reflex, he covered his ears and stumbled backward, trying to get away from the sound.
He glanced back at the first woman, the scarred and sickly one. She dodged back and shifted behind one of the pillars that held up the roof. Gunshots thudded into the area around her.
The woman moved with unnatural speed, gliding as much as moving. Matt watched her in awe, not even sure if she qualified as human. More rounds blasted into the church. They buried into the pillar behind which she hid, shattering off huge wooden fragments that went flying through the air.
She turned, looked at him, and let out a hissing sound.
“Run, Matt!” the newcomer screamed from the open doorway before firing off more rounds at the Indian woman. “Get out of here!”
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