“Ward of the south”
A dark fantasy horror novel
Across the Earth, and four other realms, a group of magically powered protectors called Ward’s defend their homes from an insidious darkness they call the umbra. They have been doing so for centuries without recognition or reward. Now a new recruit joins their ranks: Stacey Trampler, a young Australian woman who previously didn’t take much seriously. She swears like a sailor, plays in an all girl thrash metal band and roller derby. When her boyfriend and girlfriend are taken from their Melbourne flat, though, things get very real very fast.
She is forced to work with one of these Ward’s, a middle aged British recluse called Fenton Wendel, who seemingly has an enormous sway over women, even though he dresses like a Beach Boys reject in his crumpled Hawaiian shirts, board shorts and sandals. Not only does she need to work with him, she needs to become his apprentice, a task he himself is not enamoured with.
Across the Earth a group of magically powered protectors called Ward’s defend our world from dark creatures they call the umbra, without reward or recognition.
Stacey Trampler’s world comes crashing with the hidden world of the Ward’s when she finds a mysterious man sitting on the hood of her car, who tells her that she is being targeted by this dark, alien force because she’s “sensitive”.
Stacey is many things – a kindergarten teacher, daughter, girlfriend to her two housemates, singer in an all girl thrash metal band and roller derby queen – but “sensitive” isn’t one of them.
But she finds herself fighting for her life from those very same creatures when they attack her in her Melbourne flat, have taken her lovers and killed her friends. She is forced to trust and work with that man, Fenton Wendell, who sounds like he should be a British banker but looks like a beach bum vagrant. A man who is a secretive reclusive in self exile, living on his farm property somewhere in the countryside, only leaving to hunt umbra.
With no other option she agrees to become his apprentice and joins the fight against the umbra, who it seems have now evolved from being dangerous vermin, and closer to a far more dangerous predatory creature—man.
In order to save her lovers and stay alive Stacey, with the guidance of her reluctant teacher Fenton, must learn the ways of the Ward, gain their powers, travel to another world-perhaps another universe-and uncover dangerous betrayals, forge new alliances, and keep out of the clutches of the umbra leader they’ve named the Shadow Man.
Why does this Shadow Man want Stacey? What is he doing to her boyfriend and girlfriend? And what is Fenton hiding?
The idea for the novel started from something quite mundane. I was walking down a path back to my car from a pharmacy and stepped on something that underfoot had felt like something quite large. I stopped and looked but there was nothing there, probably just a paving stone that was slightly dislodged or askew. Add to that the flash-fiction horror haiku triptych I wrote around that time, Protoplasma, which was very much inspired by Lovecraft’s shoggoth and an homage to James Herbert’s The Rats, one of my favourite novels.
From there my mind went racing and out popped a novel.
I describe it as a dark fantasy horror. I enjoy writing horror and supernatural but to me Ward of the South just feels more fantasy than horror, but it is certainly on the darker side of things. It is not your standard fantasy by any means, you’ll find no faeries or elves. All the creatures are of my own construct and any that may be used from established mythology are dissimilar enough to differentiate from other fantasy novels. The great evil in the book, the umbra, are definitely Lovecraftian inspired shoggoth-like creatures. It also draws some inspiration from Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series. One of the greatest gifts of the Necroscopes, which is to travel at will using Mobius equations if you’ve not read the books, and teleportation in general always held my imagination. Of course like faeries and elves there’s no maths involved and it’s not only a select few that can travel in this manner.
Not that there’s anything wrong with faeries and elves. Maths on the other hand…
The premise evolved from this basic idea: A guy steps on a paving stone and unleashes some demonic entity/entities and finds a secret portal to a hidden realm of wizard protectors.
Through a series of what if questions posed by my own short story and outside stimuli the “guy” became a “young woman”, the demonic entity became dark protoplasmic creatures, and the wizards became the Wards.
In Ward of the South, Ward is used in the sense of the word to ward off something rather than, as it may sound, to be under the protection of someone, i.e. a ward of the state. South refers to the regions of the earth based on the cardinal coordinates, each not being specifically located in those directions but rather as a division of power in a break-up of territories, each one overseen by a Cardinal Ward.
I kept the idea of the umbra coming to earth through cracks but took it to another level. What if the Wards not only hunted the umbra and protected their world but if their power was a sort of defence grid. How would that be achieved? And the avatars were born.
Each Ward, upon taking up the role, creates a living avatar from their own imagination. These avatars are an extension of the Wards power and how the defensive shield is spread, in the form of tethers, interlinking like a giant chain-link fence. Fences have holes though.
Just like the great “rabbit proof fence” that was built through central Australia, the vermin still get through. That’s where the Wards come in.
Like cockroaches and spiders and other pests the umbra sneak in. Unlike those conventional creatures though the umbra are deadly, their only purpose is to feed and multiply by infecting living creatures. Once infected if they’re not treated they will die and their flesh join the umbra. The Wards treat infected humans and ask them to join their ranks, and most do after learning the truth.
The Wards work in secrecy, with no recognition or reward. The Wards of earth anyway.
In all there are five realms, five planets each with their own Wards. Long ago they used to come and go between the realms, but the umbra could sniff out the other races and all travel was stopped. The five realms is where the idea for the Eye of the Ward came from. It is a multi-faceted symbol:
- The pupil represents the secret world of the Wards, the Enclave, an inside out artificial world and their home base, and also the Nexus, the space the avatars reside in and the connection for their teleporting power
- The iris is the homeworld, the lines the shield radiating out from the Enclave
- The four arcs about the iris are the other realms, and also represent the compass
- The enclosing oval, or sometimes a circle, is the universe, the empty space in between the void, the dark space where the umbra come from, always encroaching on the realms.
- The symbol looks like an eye and a flower; eye for the always watching Wards, flower a symbol of life
Life is what the Wards protect, and what the umbra feed on. And in turn the umbra is what powers the Wards. They take fallen umbra and convert them to ink, tattoo their bodies with it to enable them access to the Nexus, and offensive powers. Use of their power uses up that ink and they must re-apply ink to continue.
Life is also what gives the Wards symbols their potency. There are no archaic spellbooks, no incantations, no secret or dead language. Life is their language. Just as the Wards choose the form of their avatar, so too they must choose their own symbols and craft their own ink with their life token; the few things they equate most strongly with life, whatever it may be.
The lives of the umbra and the Wards are entwined, in an almost balance.
Until the umbra start to evolve.
Currently in the fourth draft editing/re-writes I have been working on Ward of the South for roughly nine months. I have posted the first five chapters on Wattpad and working on BookTrack version of the same, which will take a little longer because I need to work harder on those. If you don’t know what Booktrack is, check out my review and the site.
I will continue working on the manuscript until I am happy or get a mainstream publisher interested. If not I will look at getting professional editing, art, etc. and self publish.