M. Howalt
(10 reviews)
In a world where wizardry is an integrated part of warfare, some kinds of magic are considered too ... Show More
Cross-Genre, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Literary, Other
magic, wizardry, witchcraft, war, ethics, grimdark, whydunnit, noir, war crimes, supernatural, mage, witch, dark magic, prison

The Beginning of the End

They had come and gone like seabirds landing in search of crabs or small fish on the shore only to leave again when the tide comes in. Iliya wasn’t sure who they were, but although he felt like a stranded fish gasping for air, and although everything came at him in waves, he did know he wasn't lying on any beach.

He had no idea how much time had passed since they hauled him in here. Couldn't remember being captured or the trip to this place at all. But even with holes gaping like empty eye sockets, the crucial points of the story were easy to figure out. He had been discovered. And this was his punishment, the beginning of the end.

When he first began to notice his surroundings, he must have been in the cell for some time already. He was lying on the floor, curled up like a sad dog. There was sick in his hair and his untrimmed beard. Layers of blood and grime covered his hands. Everything smelled of soil and blood and vomit and sweat. His uniform was a parody. It hadn't been in a particularly good state the last time he had looked at himself in a mirror, but now it was a tattered piece of dismal, misunderstood pride, a rag of grey and blue turned brown and muddy. Unsurprisingly, his belt and his sabre were gone.

The cell was dark and damp, and the only other occupants were cockroaches that scuttled across the floor once in a while. The door was made of metal bars, and there appeared to be a corridor outside. From his position on the floor, Iliya could make out a window near the ceiling, suggesting that he was in a basement. Half of it was boarded up, but it did provide a little light.

Someone had been considerate enough to put a bucket in the corner of the cell. It would be better than urinating against the wall, at least. Iliya’s mind was a foggy, detached place, terribly disciplined in the midst of the chaos. It made observations in an orderly fashion, wondered whether he would be left here to starve to death or if someone would come back with with food at some point. It probably would be easier for them to forget about him altogether and fetch his corpse later, but since they already had been here several times, it was a fair assumption that they hadn’t forgotten about him.

He was tired, and there was a world of pain to be discovered behind the rational thoughts. The paint and the plaster of his mind were crumbling, and it would be only a matter of time before he broke. Again. Because he must have broken in one way or another to end up here. But for now … For now he simply had to try to make himself as comfortable as possible. Make the best of what he had. He sat up and pulled off his jacket, peeling fabric off scabs and dried blood. A wound on his upper arm that he hadn't noticed before began to bleed. He draped the jacket around his shoulders, leaned back against the wall and waited.

He was counting the bars that defined his enclosure for the umpteenth time to keep any other thoughts at bay when a door opened somewhere down the corridor and footsteps echoed towards him. A man stepped into Iliya’s field of vision. He held a lantern in one hand and a bowl in the other. Iliya couldn’t quite place his uniform. It did not have any insignia or a name tag. The broad belt slung around the man’s hips had a keyring with too many, too noisy keys dangling from it. His face was a mask of ill-concealed fear. He didn’t speak, but Iliya knew that he was the object of the wariness. He watched the guard put the bowl on the floor and push it under the bars with his foot.

Was Iliya really that frightening to look at in this state? What could he possibly do? There was a dull, throbbing sensation in the back of his head, and he knew it was not only from thoroughly exhausting and exploiting his abilities. It was also the prison. It made sense. They would never put him in a cell built for regular people. This had to be a stronghold capable of holding a dangerous felon such as himself. Well, it explained why he hadn’t seen or heard any other prisoners. Whoever had captured him had put him out of anyone’s way for safety reasons.

Iliya almost laughed at the thought. The guard saw the change of mood and stepped back from the cell with a start. His footsteps rang out rapidly as he retreated.

Again Iliya was alone. But now there was food. They were not letting him starve to death. He crawled across the floor on his hands and knees and picked up the dish. It was a thick soup. He put the bowl to his cracked lips and drank. It wasn't hot or fresh, but all that mattered was that it was food. Devouring cold kitchen scraps wasn’t the worst thing he’d done for survival.

When there was no more soup to be poured down his throat, he ran his index finger over the inside of the bowl and licked off the remains. Then he had to clamp his hand over his mouth to keep himself from throwing the meal back up. It tasted so bad that he wasn’t sure the extra half mouthful was worth it.

He woke up next to the empty bowl with no memory of falling asleep. Some time had passed, for the inside of the bowl was dry, and the wound on his arm had closed again. Was it morning? The light from the window was different now. Another guard arrived with a new meal. She didn’t look quite as apprehensive as the first one, but Iliya noticed that she kept her hand on the hilt of her sword when she pushed the food under the bars.

This time there was bread in the bowl, and Iliya had the luxury of a chinked mug with water in it. It had a sour, tangy taste to it, but it would not do to be picky. He would have wrung the mug if it helped him get more moisture out of it. After eating, he stood up and stretched. His legs trembled, and every muscle in his body complained. For a moment, he considered if he had been in the cell for so long that he was an old man now.

How often did they feed him? Iliya wasn’t sure, but it felt like once or twice a day. He never felt full, and sometimes he would catch himself talking to a cockroach about the options of eating it or keeping it alive for company. He tried to uphold a routine of moving about in the confined space at intervals. It was pointless if he were to be executed anyway, but it helped a little when the walls began to close in and he couldn’t keep his hands from shaking and his throat seized up with silent screams. When that happened, he began to think that perhaps this was going to be his punishment, after all. Sitting here alone, kept alive, denied a quick way out or anything to keep him company but the jagged, fragmented memories haunting him.

“Iliya Radov?”

It was the first words anyone had said to him since he found himself in the cell days ago. Iliya looked up, slowly. His head felt as if someone had wrapped a large, woollen scarf around it. He was too cold and too warm at the same time, and he must have been coughing again because his throat felt like gravel and there was a taste of blood in his mouth.

A tall man was standing at the door. He was sliced into thin, vertical pieces by the bars. Iliya had a vague sense of recognising him. Of knowing him or, perhaps more likely, knowing of him. He was a clean shaven, handsome man with a long, straight nose, longer, straighter hair and immaculate clothes that gave his profession away. So did the very air around him. He emanated not only importance, but power. Real power. The kind that even Iliya had never controlled.

“Are you Infantry Assault Wizard Iliya Radov?” the man specified.

Iliya grimaced at the title before he could stop himself. He didn't trust his legs, so he stayed on the floor. He nodded once. “Yes, sir,” he said, his voice cracking like brittle branches. “I am.”

“Good gracious me ...” the tall man mumbled and put his face closer to the bars. Now Iliya could see a thin scar running down his face from the temple to the cheekbone. “What did you do to him? Were you hoping he would die before I got here?” the man asked the guard behind him.

“No, sir … We had to imprison him like this, you see ...” the guard tried to explain. She sounded almost more scared of him than she was of the prisoner.

“I realise that,” the man cut her short. “However, he is useless to me in this state.”

Finally the man’s identity dawned on Iliya. An uncontrollable bark of a laugh made its way through his throat and burst out of his mouth. Had they really been desperate enough to send for him? Someone was taking all this very seriously.

“What is so funny?” asked the man who could either be his saviour or his executor.

“I apologise,” Iliya answered. “I am surprised to see the Keeper here. And honoured of course.”

“I can relate to that first statement,” said the man. “I hope that it will at least be worth my while.”

“I shall do my best to make it,” Iliya said before a before a fit of coughing reduced him to a trembling human heap on the floor.

“I'm no doctor, but the man clearly has a fever, and I daresay that sounds like pneumonia,” said the Keeper to the guard. “Get him looked at. And whatever you feed him … I will talk to your superior.” He looked through the bars again. “Get better quickly,” he ordered.

With that, they both left. Iliya sat staring at the door, and after a while he started thinking that perhaps the man had been right and he really did have quite a fever, so high in fact that he had only imagined the two people being there. The paradox did occur to him, but he could not be bothered to think about it. Instead he lay down on the floor and pulled his jacket close around him.
Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 8/30/2015 9:22:01 AM
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  • Kine Gaye commented on :
    9/18/2016 12:54:29 PM
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    3/31/2016 2:18:41 AM
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  • Cameron Floyd commented on :
    9/7/2015 11:33:49 AM
    An intriguing start. I like what you've done and the way you describe Iliya and his situation. I like this hint that he has done something bad and I'm hooked in!
    • M. Howalt I know at this point you've read the whole story (and thank you very much!), but I'm glad that the beginning managed to hook you. :)
      9/28/2015 3:47:16 PM
  • Justin Mason commented on :
    9/5/2015 6:17:34 PM
    That opening paragraph was fantastic! It was almost delirious which is in well with Ilya's state of mind.
    • M. Howalt Thanks so much! That was what I was hoping for, so it means a lot. :)
      9/26/2015 5:41:40 PM
  • Justin Mason commented on :
    9/5/2015 6:17:55 PM
    That opening paragraph was fantastic! It was almost delirious which is in well with Ilya's state of mind.
  • Jake Young commented on :
    8/24/2015 6:47:00 PM
    Drab, lifeless, and miserable. That describes Iliya at the ouset of this story, and carries through until at least the end of this chapter. You captured the hopelessness ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Wow, you're here already! Thank you so much! :) I was hoping to hear what you thought of the prison scene. - And that is one excellent point! Thank you! I'll definitely look into making the transitions a bit less transitiony in this chapter when I go over it again. :)
      8/24/2015 7:18:18 PM
  • Katya Kolmakov commented on :
    8/15/2015 6:03:21 PM
    Endlessly engaging first chapter. I absolutely adore how smooth and precise your writing is. The text is relaxed and clear, but pulls a reader in right from the ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Thank you so much for checking out Conviction! :) It makes me so happy to hear that you enjoyed the first chapter. You're the first to comment on Iliya's Slavic origin, so that's actually exciting for me. :) My thought is that this fantasy world linguistically is constructed a lot like ours (which mostly comes out in names of towns and people), but it looks a little different - especially with where the different peoples/cultures have spread. Iliya's family comes from an area reminiscent of Bulgaria in our world. There's a bit about his heritage later in the story, but I decided to cut some details to simplify because it fit the novella form better. Sorry about the wall of text! :)
      8/15/2015 7:09:28 PM
    • Katya Kolmakov I loved the wall of text :) I'm very interested in what you have to say. I always want to know where ideas come from for a writer! I'm Russian and my brother's name is Iliya, I couldn't help but ask :) I also gave mybown characters a pseudo-Slavic language so I was twice as curious :)
      8/15/2015 10:08:40 PM
    • M. Howalt I thought your name sounded Russian. :) Thanks for sharing! It's so cool that your brother and my character have the same name. That rarely happens. :)
      8/16/2015 9:41:12 AM
  • Kevin Boyer commented on :
    8/15/2015 6:58:15 PM
    Love the start. Lots of exposition to build character, but very well constructed. I'm eager to see more characters in the next chapters.
    • M. Howalt Ooh, thank you for checking out Conviction, Kevin! I'm excited to see you here! :D The novella will focus mostly on a couple of characters, but hopefully they can carry the story. :)
      8/16/2015 9:12:14 AM
  • Brian Guthrie commented on :
    8/11/2015 3:51:33 AM
    Very nice beginning. Felt very raw and disgusting sitting here reading it. It was a bit flowery in the first paragraph, but smoothed out as it got into the meat of the ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Hey, thanks a lot for reading and commenting! :) Like any other writer, I feel super happy that I made you feel disgusting. ;)
      8/11/2015 11:37:13 AM
  • Evan Marcroft commented on :
    7/24/2015 8:58:02 PM
    I liked the promise of this first chapter, but I want to try to be critical too. This is our first impression of the world you're constructing, and thiugh this is where ... Show More
    • M. Howalt I'm so excited that you're checking out Conviction, Evan! Thank you! :D I can definitely see where you're coming from with the critique. From a worldbuilding PoV they are excellent points. The funny thing is that it wasn't until the third draft that the first two chapters had any mentioning of wizards or magic or anything that hinted at the story not being set in our world. I changed my mind because I didn't want it to be a big reveal-deal, but I also wanted to downplay certain things due to the nature of the story (I know that was cryptic, but spoilers and all that). Anyway, I appreciate your comment and critique a lot because one thing is the choice I made, another is whether it works for others (and why/why not). :)
      7/25/2015 2:09:04 PM
  • A S commented on :
    7/14/2015 5:02:29 PM
    Wow. Guess I should have read your work sooner. You are excellent! A lot of talent shining through in a flawless first chapter.
    • M. Howalt Thank you so much! - For reading and for the kind words. :) I'm excited that you decided to check out Conviction and even more excited that you're enjoying it. I hope you'll like what's in store. :)
      7/14/2015 8:07:09 PM
  • Laura Morrison commented on :
    7/14/2015 1:26:40 AM
    I'm so glad I finally got some time to read this! I love it.
    • M. Howalt And I am so glad to see you here! :D Thank you for reading. I'm happy to hear that you're enjoying it so far. :)
      7/14/2015 8:46:34 AM
  • kara coryell commented on :
    7/12/2015 3:03:56 PM
    Oh, wow. What an opening. You are doing so much with so little here. With hardly any exposition, you made me feel who Illya is, and behind him, the weight of an entire world.
    • M. Howalt Thank you very much for checking out Conviction and leaving such a nice comment! I'm really happy to hear that you can sense all that from the first chapter. It's exactly what I was hoping for. Thanks again; I hope you'll enjoy where the story's headed. :)
      7/12/2015 8:57:46 PM
  • Robert Tucker commented on :
    6/28/2015 6:31:23 PM
    You have an excellent narrative style. Your first chapter acquaints us with Illya's character through discreet details of his incarceration and mental observations. Your ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Thank you for giving Conviction a chance - and for the kind words! I'm happy to hear that you enjoyed the first chapter. :)
      6/29/2015 9:55:50 AM
  • Rosa Yollande commented on :
    6/26/2015 11:00:53 AM
    I'm starting to notice you have this skill to be able to slowly lead your reader at a gentle pace, revealing enough so they're not walking blind but holding small parts ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Wow, this is one of those comments I almost want to print out and hang on my wall. Thank you so much! I'm very happy to hear that it works so well for you and excited that you checked out Conviction! :D
      6/26/2015 12:35:03 PM
  • Cherry Algrave commented on :
    6/24/2015 1:18:50 PM
    Wow this is awesome!! Ilya is great really mysterious!! Onto the next chapter!!!!
    • M. Howalt I'm super happy to hear that you liked it! Thank you for reading and commenting! :)
      6/24/2015 4:46:57 PM
  • Kathy Joy commented on :
    6/18/2015 4:54:36 PM
    I really enjoyed this. It's such a close, intimate narrative, and although we don't learn much about Iliya, we learn enough to make him endearing.
    • M. Howalt Yay, I'm happy to see you checked out Conviction! - And really glad that you felt for Iliya. He needs people in his corner. :)
      6/18/2015 7:08:06 PM
  • K. R. Kampion commented on :
    6/16/2015 2:09:54 AM
    Okay, you've gotten me hooked once again. I'm super interested in the world building happening here. Infantry Assault Wizard? Keeper? Hell yes! Those are my kinds of ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Mission accomplished! ;) I'm really happy to hear that I managed to hook you again, and I can't wait to hear what you think of the direction this is taking. Thanks for reading and commenting, bro! :D
      6/16/2015 9:39:22 AM
  • N.C. Gossner commented on :
    6/15/2015 7:10:04 PM
    Wow. This is great! I love how strong the connection to Iliya is for the reader. Jennifer is right, it feels like it is in first person because you really allow the ... Show More
    • M. Howalt I guess I'm doing 3rd person limited X-treme edition. :) Thanks so much for reading and for the comment! I'm very chuffed that it worked so well for you. I mean, sorry about the urge to shower, but I'm super glad that it had an impact. I hope you'll like what's in store for Iliya.
      6/15/2015 8:47:29 PM
    • J.A. Waters Man, chuffed is such a good word.
      6/15/2015 9:06:31 PM
    • N.C. Gossner It is an awesome word. I love it. and I totally understand what you mean about the impact, even if it was the kind of impact that makes your readers want to shower, its still awesome, super well done. And I cant wait to see whats in store! :D
      6/15/2015 9:41:10 PM
    • M. Howalt Haha, I'm chuffed that you like my use of chuffed ... ;) Thanks again, N.C.!
      6/16/2015 9:34:03 AM
  • Melissa Dalton commented on :
    6/15/2015 6:29:25 PM
    Oh, I love this beginning so much! It has such an ominous feel to it, and it hints at so many revelations to come--about Iliya and the world and why he's been captured in ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Thank you very much for reading and commenting! I'm really glad to hear that you enjoyed it. :) The sebirds survived from the first draft; it was the first thing I wrote on this story, so I'm glad it works. Chapter two will be uploaded on Thursday. :)
      6/15/2015 8:44:11 PM
  • Kelly Vo commented on :
    6/15/2015 5:31:18 PM
    Very interesting first chapter. You did a great job creating an incoherent Iliya. While reading, I felt his mind fragmenting. Very well done. The world, what little there ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Wow, thank you very much, Kelly! I'm really happy to hear that he came out so incoherent. I was hoping to provide enough information to hook the reader, and I'm so glad that it seems to work. :) Aconitum has just been completed this month. - But don't worry; it's staying online for a few months at least. Would love to hear what you think of it. :)
      6/15/2015 6:33:46 PM
  • Amanda Cus commented on :
    6/15/2015 1:24:01 PM
    I agree with all these comments! The description is awesome and can make me not only visualize his situation but also really feel it. His isolation is definitely driving ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Thank you for giving Conviction a shot too, Amanda! :D I'm so happy that it made you feel his situation. He really isn't in a good place, mentally or physically, at this point. I hope you'll like the gradual unveiling. :)
      6/15/2015 6:00:25 PM
  • Dean Moses commented on :
    6/15/2015 4:43:04 AM
    The descriptions were extremely vivid and did well to set the scene of what the character is going through both physically and mentally. I wonder why Illiya was captured ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Thank you so much for giving Conviction a shot, Dean! I was hoping to see you would. :) I'm glad to see you're already asking questions.
      6/15/2015 5:50:42 PM
  • Jennifer Flath commented on :
    6/15/2015 2:39:22 AM
    There was this perfect blend of (icky) description and personal thoughts/speculation that made this so compelling to read. I was so in this guy's head, I almost felt like ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Wow, thank you, Jennifer! I'm really happy that it had that impact. Erh, I'm sorry that about the grossness of course, but I still take it as a huge compliment. You'll find out more in a few days. :)
      6/15/2015 4:14:44 PM
  • David Williams commented on :
    6/15/2015 1:13:00 AM
    Gripping events to start with. I just wish I knew a little more about them. What did he do? Who is the rich guy? Iliya knows, so I want to ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Thanks a lot for reading and commenting, David! I'm glad to hear that the image worked for you. And I can guarantee that you will get the questions answered in the course of the story. :)
      6/15/2015 3:08:00 PM
  • Nathan Daeodain commented on :
    6/15/2015 12:47:24 AM
    I have a wonderful image of a civil war battle wizard floating through my head. This was a terrifically slow build of character and world that I very much would like to see more of. Well done.
    • M. Howalt I like that image. :) It's not too far from how I picture him, actually. I'm happy to hear that the build-up worked for you. Thank you very much for reading, and I hope you'll enjoy where it's going. :)
      6/15/2015 1:23:53 PM
  • Andre Clemons commented on :
    6/14/2015 11:34:12 PM
    I would expect nothing less than awesome from the creator of Aconitum...and you definitely delivered here from the start. The loss of time that Iliya spends, his ragged ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Oh my ... To have a reputation that precedes me! You're almost making me blush, Andre. :) I'm very happy (and relieved) to hear that the beginning delivers. :) Thank you very much for reading and for the kind words!
      6/15/2015 12:07:21 PM
  • Ryan Watt commented on :
    6/14/2015 8:39:38 PM
    You have some crazy cool descriptions in here. The hole second paragraph, as well as the description of his uniform. Plus there is some really fascinating world building ... Show More
    • M. Howalt I'm supper happy to hear you say that. I was hoping that I could pull off an introduction almost without dialogue and still make it interesting. Thanks a lot for reading! :D
      6/15/2015 9:54:10 AM
    • M. Howalt ... *super. XD
      6/15/2015 11:30:45 AM
  • J.A. Waters commented on :
    6/14/2015 9:43:49 PM
    Nice hooks right from the start. I like that the chapter provides a great intro to the main character's personality and overall state if mind. The little touches of the ... Show More
    • M. Howalt It's great to hear that the hooks work. I was hoping to get that balance of confusion right, so I'm really glad to hear that it worked for you. Thanks a lot for reading and commenting! :)
      6/15/2015 9:57:14 AM
  • Aden Ng commented on :
    6/14/2015 6:00:41 PM
    Well that was very noir of you to write. I love noir. Nice setting. Really underrated. The story is interesting, with enough mysteries to hold.
    • M. Howalt Thank you for checking out Conviction, Aden! :) I'm very happy that you liked the first chapter, and I hope you'll be curious enough to see what happens. :) Fantasy noir? I like the sound of that.
      6/14/2015 8:54:00 PM
  • Ada Redmond commented on :
    6/14/2015 4:54:34 PM
    Nice introduction! Iliya seems likable, though I get the feeling he isn't exactly sorry about whatever it was he did that landed him in the magical equivalent of death ... Show More
    • M. Howalt I'm happy to hear that he has an ambiguity about him already and that you want to know more about him. Also thrilled that you liked the descriptions! Thanks a lot for reading and commenting! :D
      6/14/2015 8:25:27 PM
  • 10/30/2015 1:02:19 PM
    An intriguing start with a character developed strongly in just a few paragraphs. Bookshelved for sure!
    • M. Howalt Thanks a lot! I'm glad you enjoyed it and found Iliya developed; he carries a lot of the story. I hope you'll like where it's going. :)
      11/2/2015 7:56:43 PM
  • Aden Ng gave
    8/20/2015 2:08:24 PM
    (Review of chapter 1 - 12) Throughout the story, we are reminded that war is not kind, and that even the most pure and innocent of mind can be taken and remoulded with as ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Oh, wow. Thank you so much, Aden! This is such a great review.
      8/20/2015 6:32:49 PM
  • 8/11/2015 3:51:55 AM
    A very promising start to what sounds like a very intriguing world
    • M. Howalt Thanks a lot, Brian! :)
      8/11/2015 11:37:28 AM
  • TP Keating gave
    7/17/2015 9:21:54 PM
    Hi M. Howalt, Colour me well and truly hooked by the first chapter of CONVICTION. A book with an Infantry Assault Wizard is 100% my kind of book. Regards, TP Keating
    • M. Howalt Hi there! Thanks for checking out my novella and for giving the first chapter such a nice review. :) I'm glad you're hooked! :)
      7/18/2015 1:07:04 PM