I’ve selected a few excerpts from The Hands of Ruin: Book One to introduce one of the series’ prominent characters, Rainart Eil Dragaredd. Rainart is the uncle of fourteen-year-old twins, Zerah and Zigmund Aschburner. After their parents’ deaths, the twins are forced to go live with the uncle they have never met.
• • •
When they finally reached the top of the staircase, Zerah pounded the metal door in front of her. She and her brother were soaked through. Zerah only hoped their luggage had resisted the water better than their clothing. Zigmund looked out over the ocean and then down the side of the cliff. He immediately regretted his decision as the dizziness of vertigo threatened to topple him. He dropped his bags and reached back for his sister, hoping to grab her shoulder for stability. In his wobbly state, he fell back against her harder than he had intended to. The door Zerah had been knocking on opened suddenly, and Zigmund knocked his sister over, both teens stumbling and falling through the door and onto a red rug inside the house.
They wiped the water out of their eyes and looked up to see their uncle’s dark eyes and coal-black moustache towering over them. The man sniffled and walked outside to grab the dropped luggage. He threw it inside the house and then walked back in, slamming the door shut behind him.
“Down the hall and to the left are two guest rooms that will now be your bedrooms,” he said, wiping the rain from his hardened face. “I don’t care which of you takes which one. After you’ve found your rooms and changed your clothes, I’ll expect you downstairs in the dining room for dinner. I’ve already started without you.”
The twins watched the tall man walk away from them and descend a staircase to the right. He moved with a noticeable limp in his right leg but didn’t seem to let it impede his pace.
• • •
“You thought I would have servants,” Rainart finished for her. The girl shrugged sheepishly. “I don’t believe in them,” Rainart said. “People don’t deserve the things they don’t procure for themselves. We obviously can’t be totally self-sufficient creatures, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can.” Rainart put his glass down and placed his large hands on the table, pushing down as he rose out of his seat. He turned to a large cabinet behind his chair and quickly turned back with a bottle of wine. “Would either of you care for a glass? Cabernet, full bodied, with notes of cherry. It’s quite good.”
The teens noticed they each had two glasses in front of them; one was filled with water, the other empty, obviously prepared for this moment. Zerah stared at her uncle with a twinkle in her eye and her mouth hanging open in surprise. Zigmund was not as awestruck or impressed.
“We’re fourteen,” Zigmund said, as if his uncle were a complete idiot.
Rainart placed the bottle down on the table and sat back down. “Well, if that means the answer is no, you’re missing out.”
• • •
Rainart glared at Zigmund and pursed his lips. It would have been a lie for Zigmund to say the man didn’t intimidate him. Everything about Rainart was intimidating. He was large, possibly larger than the twins’ father had been, and he was dark in almost every aspect. He wore a dark goatee and had eyes to match. His shoulder-length black hair had some gray in it and was tied back, revealing a scar along the right side of his neck that looked like a crack in glass. He wore all-black clothing as if he were a smuggler or a thief. Even the fact that Rainart was in his midforties and had a noticeable limp only seemed to add to his mystique.
Rainart surveyed the boy like a predator and then returned to his wine glass. “Your father was a prick,” he said. “I’m not sorry he’s dead. I’m only sorry he was your father and sorry he married my sister.” Rainart gulped the last of his wine, proceeded to pour himself a fresh glass, and huffed.
• • •
Rainart reached under the table and wrenched the girl up by her arm. He quickly ushered her out into the hall and slammed her upright against the wall. He looked into her eyes as if searching for a ghost in the darkness, his own face just inches from Zerah’s.
“What the hell is going on?” Zigmund said as he came down the staircase.
“Shut up,” Rainart barked at the boy, but Zigmund saw his uncle with his hand on his sister’s throat, and he rushed forward.
“Get off her!” Zigmund yelled.
As the boy came forward, Rainart threw his arm out and knocked Zigmund to the ground, keeping Zerah pinned to the wall. He looked back at the girl with a ferocious growl.
“What did the bottle look like?” he snarled. “The one you drank from. What did it look like?”
“I…I…” Zerah stuttered. “It didn’t h-have a label.”
Rainart looked hard into the girl’s eyes, and there he saw what he was searching for, as fleeting as it was. Like a faint shimmer, like smoke being blown by a fan, the emerald gleam was in her eyes. He caught just a glimpse of it before it disappeared.
Stepping back, Rainart released the girl, and she slid to the floor next to her brother. She was sobbing, her cheeks wet with tears. Zigmund regained his faculties and came to his sister’s side, hugging her close to see she was all right. The teens looked up at their uncle like beaten dogs, confused, hurt, and scared beyond reason. Rainart’s eyes darted from side to side, and he scratched his beard feverishly. Suddenly, he dashed back into the wine room. The twins could hear boxes being flung about wildly, bottles clinking against one another. The world was chaos.
Rainart came back into the hallway moments later with the half-empty bottle of wine in his hands. He stomped forward and stopped in front of the teens, heaped on the floor in a pile. Rainart was breathing heavily as he looked down at them, and his eyes were manic.
“Get up, now,” Rainart’s gravelly voice commanded, “and follow me quickly. If you don’t move now, you will die.”
• • •
“As I said earlier,” Rainart began, “there is a great deal about my life and me you will find impossible to take at face value. My only aid in convincing you will be time. Events will occur, you will meet new people, and eventually I will go from the way you see me now—which I’d bet is as a lunatic alcoholic—to the way you will come to know me.
“What you have to understand, without the aid of time, is I am in a very difficult situation. Assume you had to give someone a truth he or she would find unbelievable. Assume that because of this truth, certain measures had to be taken. The question set before you is, Do you inform those who will disbelieve you, and hope their inability to believe doesn’t harm what needs to be done, or do you simply execute the necessary actions without giving any explanation? I’ll be honest: the latter option would be easier for me, but I’m trying to be the good guy here. So I’m giving you the choice. Do you want to hear the truth, knowing you won’t believe it, or do you want me to just do what I have to?”