Jay's Corner

Writers Spotlight – Matthew Greganti

greganti-tnBio: I was born in Memphis, TN and raised in Olive Branch, MS.  I was placed in creative writing classes in sixth grade and have been an artist since I was seven years old.  In school I was always bored and doodled constantly.  In high school during a few doodle sessions I created what would be my first story.  For the next two years I worked on the story and came up with dozens of characters.  Over the next several years I came up with a few more stories that I also began working on.  In the summer of 2007 I started working on Spirit.  Beginning with some drawings of starships and warriors in body armor, the tale soon began to come together and a year later I started writing it.  After six years of work Spirit was finished, telling the story of Vincent Hunt and his team of Demonslayers as they fight to save the Xenophon Alliance from the onslaught of the Drakonis.

Here’s an excerpt from Matthew’s book. You can buy it from Lulu.com at this link. Join us next Wednesday for our next ICC Writer’s Spotlight!!

Chapter 1

 The year was 2154. Eden, the once great stronghold of the Xenophon Alliance lay in ruins ravaged by nearly a century of war amongst its citizens. By then no one could recall what precipitated the initial conflict, but it was not long before the chaos swept over the realm. A chain reaction of never ending battles spawned a behemoth of war that was insatiable. The battles blended seamlessly together, one after another until the fires of reckless hate, fueled by greed, ideology, and genocide, covered the planet. The cultures of men quickly fell into disrepair as life became more about survival than abundance. Not even those of the Body of Christ, known as Xenophon, were immune from the devastation. However, they had a tendency to survive the famine, plagues, disasters, and war with a peculiar regularity. Their brethren, misinterpreting their favor in the midst of tragedy as unfairness began to persecute them. The Xenophon Alliance however continued to stand against the evils of the world as a beacon of hope despite the darkness attempting to overtake it. These actions did not help their position as things worsened on the realm. Many viewed their denouncement of sin coupled with their persistent survival as the hypocritical words of their executioners. The war began to subside as the lost souls of the realm found a common enemy. The situation for the Alliance on Eden became dire. As the oppression of God’s Chosen continued at the hands of the arrogant and the deceived, their numbers dwindled. Those that remained concealed their identities, not out of fear, but out of necessity, that they might continue to fulfill the will of the King. They were forced to operate in the shadows, though they still found others willing to join them. Yet as time passed, it became increasingly difficult to find those to join the soldiers of Jehovah in combating the evil of the realm. Either by martyrdom or weary seclusion, the King’s warriors soon dwindled. However there were a select few who still made forays into the Heavens for the purpose of defending the Kingdom and the realm of Eden against their true adversaries. They were the Drakonis, a demonic horde who sought to influence the wills of men toward evil desires.

One of these soldiers, a man named Vincent Hunt was once one of the most powerful and inspiring leaders in the entire Kingdom. Those who served under him followed him with an uncommon zeal. Those who commanded him respected him as a man of equal valor and courage. However, in the prime of his leadership within the Alliance he had become jaded and broken, walking the path of righteousness alone and isolated. Something happened to the promising warrior nearly ten years ago that fractured his life and set him on a lonely road in a dying world. He lived a solitary life, much as a solemn hero of days gone by. He wandered the streets of Eden, helping on occasion those whom he deemed worth his time. These encounters were sparse as he only interacted with people as a necessity. He ate in dimly lit taverns when he could afford it and scavenged when he could not. He went home to an abandoned building suspected by others of being frequented by supernatural apparitions, perhaps as a means of deterring curious and intrusive visitors. The only meager comfort he gained was from a small photo of a young woman from before his days on the nearly destroyed realm. He gazed at her face fondly but never allowed himself to feel too much, choosing rather to heap regret and shame upon himself for what happened so long ago. Yet deep in his heart a small glimmer of hope still beckoned him back to the life he left behind.

One day as Vincent returned home, he saw something further down the street that got his attention. From a distance he observed two men who appeared to be harassing a third. Over what he was not able to tell, so he slowly began to draw closer to them, making sure to stay inconspicuous. Standing out on Eden was a quick and easy way to find trouble in those days. As he approached, he saw two unkempt rather surly men, which was saying a lot given the deterioration of living conditions in a war ravaged world. Both of the men had very short hair, as if their heads had been recently shaved. They had the appearance of guys that would have picked a fight with an angry alligator simply because they were bored. Their multiple layers of clothing made it possible to conceal a wide array of crude weapons, though this manner of dress was mainly for warmth. The edges of their garments were frayed and riddled with holes from excessive wear. This attire was not uncommon for many people living on Eden, as the planet’s average temperature had lessened quite a bit as the population dwindled. It also helped considerably with the pervasive dust, dirt, and other filth in urban areas of the planet.

The man being badgered by the other two was young, about the age of a college student, that is, if people still went to college. His straight hair parted down the middle was short in the back and did little to conceal the freshly emerged black cross on his forehead. It had a look of brushed steel with a beveled edge and an overall Gothic style to it, with arrow-like tips that flared out from the ends. This marking had been the symbol of the Xenophon Alliance for millennia, bestowed on those who had accepted the call of the Kingdom. Unfortunately for the young man, he had not yet learned to conceal his mark. Its sighting was almost always a guarantee of belligerent attack. Vincent had seen this many times before, typically preferring not to get involved. This time however he was uncharacteristically compelled by the Spirit within him to intervene on the Newborn’s behalf. As Vincent came even closer, he could hear the taunts being hurled at the young man. He knew that the situation was getting bad fast.

“So you think you’re better than us?” said one of the men.

“N-n-no, it’s not – ” replied the young man.

“You know what I think,” said the other brute, cutting him off. “I think we ought to teach this Xeno a little humility!” shoving the kid to the ground as he shouted.

As the two men shared a laugh at the youth’s expense, the first one responded to his partner’s suggestion.

“Sounds good to me.”

The second man then pulled a large knife from inside one of his tattered sleeves. As he slowly approached, the young man crawled back with horror on his face and in his breath. The knife wielding ruffian raised his hand to strike, and as he thrust it downward another hand grabbed his wrist and in one motion stretched out the assailant’s arm, twisting it with a sickening snap. The knife quickly clattered to the ground, and the boy’s rescuer placed his other hand on the thug’s neck shoving him towards his accomplice.

After stumbling to the street, his friend in tow, the would be murderer angrily stood to confront the one who had thwarted his misguided pleasure, saying, “You picked the wrong guy to mess with man.”

The hooded figure before him had positioned himself between the boy and his persecutors, and spoke with a subdued but powerful voice.

“You will leave this boy alone. Depart, and no harm will come to you.”

“Who do you think you are ordering us around like that?” asked the first man.

The hooded man simply stood there.

“Show us your face!” they demanded. As he complied with their request, Vincent pulled back his hood, revealing his face. Emblazoned on his forehead was the same cross as the young man behind him, yet his glowed with what seemed to be an electric energy as blue as lightning. Four darker bands of color traversed his irises, arranged in a manner that formed a cross through the eye. Amazed and a little frightened by this more powerful Xenophon incarnation, the two aggressors fled, but not without hurling one last insult at the pair. A smirk and short exhale was Hunt’s only retort as he turned to check on his new brother.

As Vincent pulled the young man to his feet, he asked him, “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, for the most part.” he said. “Guess I didn’t realize what I was getting into when I joined the Kingdom.”

“You should take care to cover your mark in the future,” said Vincent almost coldly. He then proceeded to walk away, but the young man stopped him.

“Wait. My name’s Jonathan. Is it alright if I come with you, maybe learn about Christ? No one’s really told me anything yet. Just got Reborn yesterday.”

Vincent stopped conflicted by the struggle between his pride and the small voice within attempting to reignite his fervor for the Kingdom. After a moment of contemplation he replied, barely turning around, “Sorry kid. I’m in no shape to help anyone. Besides, I work alone now.” As Vincent left the bewildered young man behind, Jonathan felt that his and Vincent’s futures were somehow intertwined. It was at that moment that he decided to find out if that feeling would prove to be true.

 

CHAPTER 10

 

The Akala exited hyperspace near the realm of Ephesus. As the ship drew near to the planet, her crew fell into disbelief at what laid before their eyes. They each rose from their seats and saw through the main window of the bridge that the surface of a planet once covered with lush blues and greens was now overtaken with an ashen black hue accented by fires that still burned in small pockets. The realm was burning. Ephesus had been overrun. An overall swath of complete devastation now covered the planet’s surface. Many vessels of the Drakonis fleet patrolled the space surrounding Ephesus, like sharks circling a dying animal. Though their designs were very angular, there were no straight lines anywhere on their surfaces. They had an organic yet unnatural feel as their wings and fins were one with the bodies of the ships themselves. The wicked curves of the vessels were only interrupted by small, jagged fractures in the surfaces that appeared to be filled with lava. The black metal that crafted their hulls swirled with a silvery sheen and gave them the look of being hewn from the pits of Hell.

“How could this have happened?! What about their defense network?” asked Elijah in bewilderment.

“McClaren said we don’t know why their Veil failed. Maybe the Drakonis found a way to penetrate or even destroy it. Either way, if anyone is left we should try to find out for sure. With the amount of devastation I don’t know how easy it will be to find survivors,” answered Vincent. While the rest of the team looked on, a rapid beeping came from the radar console.

John rushed over to his station with urgency. “Uuhhhh,” he said fiddling with the console, still getting used to how it worked. “Sir, we’ve got incoming. Multiple targets at bearing… point-three-zero. It’s four ships…I think. ”

“Interceptors,” Elijah said.

Vincent ordered the Demonslayers to their stations and told Michael, “Scan the surface for a suitable landing site and navigate a path through the Drakonis patrols – and hurry!”

John alerted the crew of the distance of the incoming ships. “3,000 meters and closing!”

“C’mon, c’mon,” urged Michael under his breath as the instruments scanned the realm below.

“2,000 meters! 1,000 meters!”

“THERE!! Got it! Can you handle that?”

Michael asked Elijah.

“Please,” Elijah responded audaciously.

“Hit it Lieutenant!” instructed Commander Hunt.

Elijah gunned the engines and the Akala headed straight for its attackers. As they closed the gap with the Drakonis vessels, Gideon interacted with the console before him, activating two ports on each side of the Akala’s hull which opened to reveal launch tubes containing missiles. Four of them burst forth in rapid succession as the Akala took a sharp right dodging the incoming ships. The four Drakonis vessels scattered in an attempt to avoid the missiles. Two evaded their fate while the other ships’ gracelessness was punctuated by two bright fireballs, rending them into tiny bits. The Akala continued to descend toward the planet and the remaining ships quickly turned around attempting to give chase.

“Activate the shields Mr. Rhodes,” Vincent ordered. Gideon did so just in time to deflect the orange plasma blasts from the remaining two interceptors. One of the interceptors finally met its end at the hands of one of the missiles, bringing its short pursuit of the Akala to an end. The final ship eventually abandoned its efforts to apprehend the Xenophon vessel in the interest of self preservation. It did nothing but delay the inevitable by about four seconds as shortly thereafter, a shining burst of flame erupted behind the Akala.

Just as the crew saw fit to celebrate the interceptors’ elimination, numerous swarms of demonic craft could be seen through the window and their elation turned to anxiousness. “Great,” muttered Elijah.

“Looks like we’ve got a squadron of fighters, about forty sir,” John said.

“Everybody hang on! This could get a little rough!” Lieutenant Knight warned.

Vincent shouted, “Gideon, arm the turrets!”

“Laser turrets activated!”

Suddenly the fighter craft rushed the Akala and Elijah began to take her into steep climbs and dives to traverse the wave of enemy fighters dispatched to eliminate her. As the ships neared one another, blue-green plasma beams leapt out from the Akala from every angle. The fighters also opened fire, creating a brilliant cloud of orange and teal laser bolts as the ships rocketed toward the planet. However, the tiny ships were no match for the automated turrets and were promptly destroyed in spectacular fashion, as the pilot of the Akala continued to roll and dodge past them. Once they had passed the bulk of the net of ships deployed above the realm, the explosions subsided as did the extreme maneuvers. Elijah sighed, relieved to have made it through in one piece. He then began to laugh uproariously.

“Please don’t do that again,” John said, his face looking a little green.

“I agree,” Vincent added.

As the crew shared a laugh at their friends’ expense, Aaron turned quickly in his chair, directing his attention to the panel in front of him. He began to adjust some settings on the console, listening intently. “Sir, I’m picking up some faint chatter. It looks like the sector we’re descending to has been infiltrated by a Xenophon team, but they’re under heavy fire and require assistance.”

“Establish a commlink,” Vincent ordered. Aaron complied and Vincent hailed their besieged brethren. “This is Commander Vincent Hunt of the Akala. We have been dispatched to assist you. What is your situation?”

A voice on the other end responded over static.

“Oh thank God! We’re pinned down under heavy fire. The slimeballs ambushed us! We ran down a small team of Drakonis and dispatched most of them. The ones we missed headed for a nearby ridge. We pursued them, but when we got to the ridge a massive force was on the other side. We tried to retreat to the woods but were cut off.” The man’s speech was punctuated here and there by roars and explosions. As he asked, “Can you help us?” Vincent looked at the members of his crew. They all knew without words what was going to happen next and were more than prepared to follow their commander.

“Hold them off as long as you can. We’re on our way.”

On the surface of Ephesus, the man who had spoken with Vincent moments before deactivated a comm device, and resumed fighting off the demons attempting to overtake him and his men.

Another man, who was clearly his second in command, asked over the blaring noise of combat, “What did they say?”

“The cavalry’s comin’ boys and girls! Hold ‘em off ‘til they show!” This good news bolstered the resolve of the Xenophon team, and they declared their newfound hope with a unified shout. Two of the team members then activated and hurled some grenades into the charging group of Drakonis before dropping back down behind the wall of the blast crater they were taking cover in. As they detonated, a series of agonizing roars rose from the felled beasts that accentuated the blasts. The Xenophon polished off the remaining Drakonis but victory did not last long. The next wave began to close in quickly as the team’s leader peeked over the hill just long enough to see another monstrous horde of diseased spirits sweeping toward them. The team of warriors braced themselves for the worst.

Suddenly the demons began to drop in vast numbers, ripped apart by laser blasts that tore through their ranks, dropping from the clouds above like deadly rain. Moments later, the Akala burst through the low hanging overcast that was thickened by the smoldering remains of the planet. What remained of the ground trembled beneath the feet of the saintly warriors matching the rhythm of the precipitating plasma blasts. The Demonslayers’ ship ascended again then made one final pass over the battlefield dropping spherical charges which sent out a burst of energy that looked like a translucent sphere expanding outward in every direction. They cleared the area of any stragglers attempting to escape, vaporizing any demonic life forms on contact. After setting the ship down on the now empty battlefield, Vincent and his crew prepared to disembark and meet their newfound family. As the loading ramp lowered, the Demonslayers were greeted by the cheers of the team they had rescued. They descended the ramp, humbly accepting their gratitude as Vincent met with the other commander.

“Man, am I glad you showed up,” he said, shaking Vincent’s hand. “We were cut off from our ship and couldn’t take on that many of them on foot. Without you, we’d have been overtaken.” As Vincent stared at him the man replied, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I am Zachariah Dunn, Commander of the Charodon and leader of the Veritas team.” Zach was slightly shorter than Vincent, having a slender build though his stature did not seem to deny him any capability in war as his armor was laced with a plethora of battle scars, a clear mark of getting some very personal attention from the Drakonis.

“Nice ship,” said Zach’s number two, who was quite a large man standing nearly six and a half feet tall, and whose armor encased a rather strapping frame. “I don’t think ours would have been as capable had we made it back.”

“Allow me to introduce my brother Benjamin. He’s my second in command. Our other members are Angela, Charles, David, Wendy, and Mathias.”

Elijah stepped forward and shook Ben’s hand saying, “Pleasure to meet you. Well, we’re the Demonslayers and this is our Commander, Vincent Hunt. I’m Elijah Knight, pilot and First Lieutenant of the Akala. This is Michael, Aaron, Gideon, and Jonathan.”

“Fitting name for a team such as yours. I’ve never seen firepower like that before. Do you mind if we take a peek at her?” Zachariah asked.

“Sure! You’ve got to see this thing. I mean it has so much –” Elijah began enthusiastically.

“I’m afraid we don’t have time,” Vincent responded coldly, cutting off Elijah.

“Understandable. After all, this is a war. Maybe another time,” Zach said. Vincent turned to leave without a farewell to the Veritas, a surprising act to the rest of the Demonslayers. In spite of Vincent’s actions they said their goodbyes and began returning to the ship. Elijah was particularly shocked, but maintained his diplomacy.

“I’m sorry. It’s been a long day. I’m glad we met. Maybe we can get together in the future.” Elijah waved farewell to the other members of Zach’s team and followed his fellow crew members back to the Akala.

“Vincent,” said Elijah once aboard the vessel. “What was that man? They were just being cordial and appreciative, and you can’t give them a decent ‘goodbye’?” he asked in confusion.

“We’re not here to make friends, Lieutenant. This is war and we have a mission to do. Ephesus must be avenged and we don’t have a lot of time.”

“It will be. Just remember who vengeance belongs to,” responded Elijah.“We are here to do the will of the King, and I need to know that you are in control of your emotions, not the other way around.”

“You wouldn’t understand,” Vincent said.

“About Audrey? I do actually. I saw the love you two shared. I can’t fathom how much it hurts knowing she’s gone now. But that doesn’t justify blind rage. You’re my friend Vincent. I don’t want to see you destroy yourself.”

After a moment of consideration Vincent replied, “You’re right. I’m sorry man, let’s get going.”

Despite his words, Elijah was still visibly concerned about his friend. “Vincent. I know it’s hard to let go of what happened ten years ago, especially after what he did. But you can’t blame him for her death either. You have to let it go.” Vincent continued toward the bridge silently as Elijah stood there, still troubled by the situation.

As Commander Hunt returned to his seat on the bridge, the other Demonslayers glanced at each other nervously, but said nothing, uncomfortable with their leader’s behavior. After sitting there for a moment, Vincent said, “Mr. Stone.”

“Yes sir?” responded Aaron.

“Contact the Veritas. Tell them we can offer them an escort back to their ship if they want.”

“Aye sir,” said Aaron. He then sent the transmission.

Zach could be heard seconds later over the comm channel. “We would be honored,” he said. “We’ll be aboard shortly.” Elijah, having entered the bridge after the transmission looked at his old friend who looked back. He bobbed his head briefly, acknowledging Vincent on his change of heart. With their new friends aboard, the Akala lifted from the battlefield as Michael gave the members of the Veritas a brief tour of the ship, explaining that it was a prototype vessel that they themselves were just getting used to. After the tour, the Akala arrived at the ship of the Veritas, known as the Charodon. The Akala landed at the bottom of the hill that the Charodon was situated atop. It had a sleek yet aggressive look to it. It was smaller in size than the Akala, but still the vessel was impressive. Its coloration was darker than the Slayers’ ship, having a gun metal coloration to it. It had two main wings on each side that angled down slightly, with two smaller wings behind them. They sat just aft of the midsection of the ship, with the engines nestled underneath them. Their ship number gleamed in silver on the side: “03”. Atop the vessel was a singular tail fin of considerable size which gave the ship an overall look that was highly reminiscent of a shark.

“Wow, that’s not bad,” John said seeing the ship.

“Not bad at all!” Elijah remarked.

Zach turned around to see his two new friends nearly drooling over the ship that stood before them.

“Guys! Should I take a picture for you or what?”

“Sorry,” Elijah said snapping out of it. “It’s a very impressive ship.”

“Thanks. She’s served us well.”

“I bet,” Elijah said.

“Come on guys. We really should get back to our mission,” Vincent said tempering his emotions well.

“We should be getting back to our mission too. There may not be many survivors but there are survivors and the longer we wait the less of a chance they stand.”

“Alright. I guess we’ll see you around,” Elijah said

“We look forward to it,” Zach replied.

The two teams then parted ways as allies should, and as his men boarded their vessel, Vincent apologized for his earlier rudeness. Zachariah told him not to worry about it, and that everyone lost something when Ephesus was attacked. The Demonslayer commander started back down the hill and looked out past the few trees surrounding the Charodon. He simply looked out across the destruction that had been exacted on the planet. A vast plain laid to waste. Smoke rising to the sky. A sadness coupled with resolve filled Vincent’s heart and he turned to head back to his own vessel. Soon after Vincent’s arrival the Akala once again took off, only now she searched for prey.

 

If you enjoyed this sample, buy it from Lulu.com at this link.

PamHarrison

Pam Harrison is one of the first and best known CGI artists in Independent Comics. Her work with the historical fiction series House of the Muses earned her the 2008 Prism Comics Queer Press Grant for Outstanding Series, and she continues her storytelling in a gripping sci-fi space opera adventure, A Deviant Mind, that far transcends its original LGBT audience. Her work has also appeared in ALPHABET Anthology, Dark Mischief horror anthology, Voices Against Bullying and more.
Her current series is the long-running scifi space opera A Deviant Mind, updating Sunday-Wednesday-Friday on http://adeviantmind.com/