Hey everyone. 🙂 Book Two, Conviction’s Pain, will be released tomorrow, and believe me, I’m struggling to think about anything else. I’m nervous as hell!
So, I thought I’d treat you all to the first chapter of the second book of The Mahaelian Chronicle – you do need to beware of spoilers if you haven’t yet read Betrayal’s Shadow, though!
Conviction’s Pain begins moments after Betrayal’s Shadow ends, so we’re right back with everyone who was in that room in the palace… 😉
Hope you enjoy the excerpt!
Seiria cradled Jarlath’s head in her lap. The light had left his eyes and his lips were slightly parted, his forehead beaded with sweat. She had heard his last exhalation, knew that he was dead, but it seemed to her that he could wake at any moment, as if he was just stuck in some powerful recollection and would snap out of it. But her heart was screaming the lie, pounding in her chest so loudly that she didn’t hear the sobs and whimpers that tumbled from her throat.
Shapes moved around her, shadows darkening her vision. Somewhere inside herself she knew the shapes, knew who they were –killed him, he killed him– but she couldn’t rouse herself, couldn’t spare a thought for the danger that she was in. Even the room and the destruction that had been wrought in it had a dim quality, an unreality, that her mind couldn’t process. Not when she cradled the head of the man she loved in her lap.
But then a shaped loomed over her, a shape which only resolved once Seiria lifted her head and blinked away the tears that caused her vision to tremble. His face was flushed with anger, with exertion, his white hair untidy, his eyes bloodshot with anger, crazed.
Del’Ahrid. The mental utterance of his name brought her fully into the moment, shattering the fog of anguish and disbelief that had enveloped her.
“What was he talking about?” He flung the question at her, spittle spraying her face so that she had to blink. “Tell me!”
He bent over her, his shadow draping her, blotting out the light of the remaining torches. Beyond him, the damage suddenly didn’t look so bad. She fought a sudden hysterical laugh and realized that she might be losing her mind. She heard and felt the slap this time, the anger behind it sending her sprawling so that Jarlath’s head slipped from her lap and made dull contact with the floor.
In that instant, Seiria slipped over the edge, falling into whatever darkness had begun to rise within her the moment Del’Ahrid had lunged the dagger into Jarlath’s chest. She began pushing herself upright the moment after her palms slapped the floor, launching herself back towards the hateful bastard before he had a chance to react.
Her mouth opened, voicing a scream that hurt her throat even as she lashed out, slamming both fists into the side of his knee. The joint bent in the opposite direction and Del’Ahrid cried out as he began to topple sideways, putting even more strain on the damaged joint. Something snapped with a brittle crunch and his cry became a high scream of pain that rang in Seiria’s ears. But it also pulled her forward and she began raining blows on him while he was still collapsing, striking wherever she could in her grief-fuelled rage; the back of his head and neck, his shoulders and arms, over and over, punctuating each blow with something between a grunt and a scream. The room contracted around them, as if this lashing torrent of pain was somehow pulling everything inward. Even sound fled, the entirety of her existence focused on pounding the old murderer into the ground.
Gradually her blows became weaker, her arms rising and falling erratically, and pain now throbbed in her fists. Her voice was raw and ragged, her eyes burning with tears, and her whole body thrummed. She heard the clatter of something striking the floor only vaguely, as if from a great distance, and moments passed before she realized what had happened.
Del’Ahrid’s grip around the hilt of the dagger had loosened, and it had slipped from his grasp.
Seiria lunged forward, over his moaning form, eyes rapidly blinking the tears away even as she scanned the floor. There! She reached, straining for the glint of light, heard someone say, “No! Stop!”. Her fingers snatched and curled around the hilt as she sprawled atop the First Advisor, and she brought the dagger arcing down and sideways, slamming it into Del’Ahrid’s side.
Del’Ahrid fell sideways, his face a grimace of pain and surprise, and Khyber’s eyes caught the flash of light along the dagger’s blade, as if it had winked at him, like the sun briefly blazing through roiling storm clouds.
Riveted to the spot by his failure, the Elvayn could only track the dagger’s movements as the old human thrashed around on the floor. Such a small thing, he thought distantly, to herald destruction and death. The Guardians had invested it with the power to transform its wielder into the saviour this world had needed – and now it was a murder weapon, a tool that had destroyed hope.
A part of him wanted to flee, to run as the other human, Bryce, had. Surely that was the only answer – find a place to wait for the end? But where would he go? To the Slave Hold, to try and find a mother and father who wouldn’t recognize him? To Amalia? Perhaps they would be able to survive and hide on the plains near the Standing Stones. But a larger part of Khyber knew that running wouldn’t accomplish anything – it would give him more time to think about the fact that he hadn’t been quick enough to save the King.
A flurry of movement pulled his attention back to Del’Ahrid.
Seiria was hitting him, over and over again, her face red with rage and grief, her arms pale flashes as they rose and fell, rose and fell. Khyber didn’t wish the man dead –there wouldn’t be any difference if he died now or later- but something about seeing an old human being beaten like this was wrong. The man couldn’t even defend himself-
Khyber’s eyes snapped back to the dagger at the moment it slipped from Del’Ahrid’s grasp, its blade once again storm-dark. He felt suddenly as if he was standing at the edge of some very high place, as if the great yawning gulf was pulling at him, a sensation like falling, like the world reeling off balance-
Seiria stretched over the First Advisor, reaching for the dagger. Khyber shouted, “No! Stop!” but she either didn’t hear him or ignored him. Her fingers closed around the hilt as he took a panicked step forward – her arm rose slightly, extending, as he took a breath to Sing at her – and the blade swept into Del’Ahrid before he could release the Song.
A pulse of energy rippled outward from the dagger, blasting stark shadows against the walls and ceiling, and then the ripple reversed direction, swept back into the dagger, sucking the shadows down with it.
Del’Ahrid voiced a gasp, his whole body jerking on the floor, and Khyber realized what he had just witnessed.
They had to leave. Now.
He sprang forward and grabbed Seiria –she was blinking in confusion, probably wondering what had just happened- and was Singing as he pulled her to her feet. She didn’t struggle against him, even though she still clutched the dagger in a white-knuckled grip, and he turned with her in his arms, felt the light enveloping him.
The world went white around them.
Alun Dronald hadn’t made it ten feet into the palace before he’d realized what a fool he’d been.
Running down the eerily empty corridors, he wondered if Brice would have made the same mistakes if he’d been in command of the city’s forces. After witnessing the destruction of the mystery army that had attacked Shorwin’s Hold, Alun hadn’t even considered that Jarlath would need protection. And in the heart of what amounted to his stronghold? Perhaps he would have made the same choice and shifted every available soldier to the defence of the palace.
But ordering the entire force to rush into the palace to check on the King? Pure lunacy. He could blame it on panic, he supposed, and on the chaos and bone-deep relief that always followed the end of a battle, but the truth was that he was angry at the way Cobinian had manipulated him. The old man whom he had first met at the Dhurbaine dockyard, seemingly harmless and always smiling, had deftly held the focus of Cambeith’ar’s entire defensive force. While in the palace, some other aspect of his plan was probably even now being carried out.
Or was it? Had Cobinian planted that panic in Alun to ensure his escape? And he had escaped – Alun felt the frustration of the men he had sent after the old man through the terrifying bond they shared. It seemed that the man had disappeared; his scent had just stopped in the middle of a broad, debris- and corpse-strewn avenue.
Alun passed the shattered pieces of a vase, the soles of his boots crunching momentarily on the shards as he sprinted past. Something happened here. There was a strange scent in the air, something with hints of moist soil and the tang of rain, and something else, a familiar flavour…
Later. Get to the King. He had to focus, not let other concerns distract him. Squads of Knights were now securing the districts surrounding the palace, destroying any Reavers they came across and helping survivors where they could. Once he knew what was happening with the King, if anything, he could take the time he needed to gather his thoughts and put together a plan to make sure that the rest of the capital was secure.
The first hint of what awaited him hit his senses as he rounded a corner and came in sight of the doors of the King’s private chambers. They stood ajar, the gap filled with a fitful yellow light, and the air was redolent with scents of burnt wood, singed leather and smouldering cloth.
And blood. Alun swore loudly as he neared the doors, the coppery, wet scent filling his head. Panic clutched at him.
He slowed, skidded to a halt and flung the right-hand door open before stepping across the threshold and into the room. The sight struck him like a physical blow. Two bodies lay in scarlet pools that were soaking into the shattered remnants of chairs and books. Curling trails of smoke rose from smouldering wreckage he couldn’t identify. But the bodies-
One of them groaned, the groan of someone waking to pain and confusion, and Alun hurried towards the man. “Don’t move,” he said, “just lie still, I’ll get a Healer to you!” Alun crouched beside the injured man, registering the untidy white hair, the robes, hesitating, wishing suddenly that he’d received some field-medic training.
“Where-” began the old man, and then he coughed again, took a breath as he shifted slightly, sending a brief ripple across the surface of the blood-pool at his side. “Where are they?” His voice was breathless and soft with pain but Alun recognized it immediately.
Which meant that the other man had to be the King. Alun lurched over to the prone form, clutching at an extended leg and shaking it, heedless of protocol. “Sire? Sire!”
“Leave him,” he heard the First Advisor say, his voice stronger now. “The King is dead.”
There was a finality in Del’Ahrid’s voice, as hard and unflinching as stone. It froze Alun. Dead? How can he be dead? He tried to say something but it was as if the lingering heat from the smouldering wreckage had evaporated the words from his lips.
He felt a tug on his arm, turned his head slowly to look at the First Advisor.
“I said get me that Healer, are you deaf?”
“What happened here?” Alun managed finally. “How…?”
The old man grimaced. “That bitch Seiria, that’s how. A concealed dagger. I tried to protect him, but…” He shook his head. “It’s done.”
But Alun couldn’t agree. First the battle at Shorwin’s Hold, then the horror of what had happened at the dockyard, the battle for the capital, and now this. After almost five centuries of relative peace, something dark and deadly was happening in Avidar.
It wasn’t done, he knew. It was beginning.
Khyber released the Song and the blazing light that had surrounded them dimmed and bled away. The human woman, Seiria, had just enough time to clutch at him in terror before Khyber fell silent; its power had snatched them out of Jarlath’s private chamber, transporting them to the only place Khyber knew he was safe.
Seiria reeled away from him, stumbling across patches of pale grass and dry dirt, and then stopped short, gazing upwards at the tall Standing Stone before her. She released a small, frightened “Oh!” and the dagger dropped from her hand –
But it didn’t hit the ground.
It spun slowly downward, tumbling end over end, sunlight sparking and lancing off the blade, and slowed before finally stopping about a forearm’s length from the ground. A ripple of something pulsed through Khyber, stealing his breath, and he took an involuntary step back.
“What-” Seiria had time to say, and then she was hurled backward into him as a sphere of radiant energy erupted into being. Knocked sprawling, Khyber shielded his eyes against the silent, heatless onslaught. He called out to Seiria but he couldn’t hear his voice, felt only the pressure of the sound in his throat. The Guardians had said that they wouldn’t be able to return, that all their power had been used up – so what was this?
He blinked past his fingers, squinting into the sphere of energy and finally noted the speck at its centre. The dagger.
Even as he began to understand what might have happened, five voices spoke in unison, the sound of their combined vocalization trembling through him, powerful yet forceless.
So is the circle closed. What was Sung is now Wielded – what was made is now un-made.
Brice Serholm turned and faced the gateway which he had just walked through. It was dissipating, tendrils like curling smoke radiating from its borders, and he wanted nothing more than to step through it again and hurl all the power at his command against the traitorous First Advisor. Killing the man, though, would be too quick an end. Too easy and too merciful.
If what Brice had been told was correct –and he had no reason to believe otherwise, not after everything else that he had been shown- then Del’Ahrid wouldn’t have long to rule, in any case. The man would soon find himself beset on all sides, unable to stem the coming tide of destruction and war because he had murdered Jarlath. Let that be his final lesson.
Yet it was such a steep price. And everyone else had to pay it, too.
The gateway bled away, the power which had animated it –and which had originated with him- dispersing into the area surrounding Brice. He watched the grass become more vibrantly green, the flowers opening their petal-heads, heard the trees elicit soft, woody groans. Once he might have thought he was imagining it all, but in this place nothing was hidden. All the underlying magic and majesty of existence was there to be witnessed, not hidden or driven out of existence as it had been in Brice’s birth-world. Everything was closer to the surface, here. Even the air had a quality to it he couldn’t remember experiencing anywhere in Avidar.
His brief sojourn back to the palace had left him feeling dirty, as if he had brushed up against something unclean or diseased. Being able to return to this place revitalized him, yet the weight of what he had to report to Way Maker and the Sacred One -another name the tribe used for He Who Hunts the Darkness- did not lessen. Brice closed his eyes briefly, taking a deep breath, and then turned again to seek the path to the Garden.
The first time he had walked through this place, when he had been led by the tribe and a still-wary Way Maker, he had been stunned into silence by it all.
The trees towered overhead, not crowding around but spaced comfortably, their trunks wide and unscarred, the shadows under their verdant canopies cool and subtly laced with un-nameable yet pleasing fragrances. The earth was soft underfoot and a rich, loamy brown where the lush grass opened in revealing patches. He hadn’t wanted to step on anything, so different and life-full was this place, but as they walked he saw the grass spring back after a foot had lifted, saw the foot-shaped depressions in the soil slowly fill out again. When the group passed a tree Brice had reached out and run the fingertips of his right hand across the bark; it was warm, felt like rough skin, and something passed between him and the tree, a communication of acknowledgement, as if the tree had nodded at him. He had to stop or collapse, so weak did his knees become in that moment. He felt a hand gently slip under his elbow to support him, and when Brice looked and saw who it was, he whispered, “What is this place?”
Mar regarded him with a soft smile, his features now fully restored. His skin had regained its colour and was no longer shrunken against his skull; in fact, Brice couldn’t remember that he had ever seen Mar looking so healthy. “This place?” He shrugged. “It is many things, Brice. The collective dream of every being; a fond memory; perhaps even a state of existence to strive towards. It doesn’t actually matter. Come, once you are brought before the Sacred One you’ll understand better.”
And he had, though a part of him knew that trying to fully understand this realm would be a fool’s errand. He was beginning to believe that fully understanding anything destroyed its beauty and mystery; accepting and experiencing was enough.
Yet now, with what had happened in the palace in Cambeith’ar…
An ending approaches. Perhaps the end of everything, perhaps not. He had to believe that there was hope, even with Jarlath dead.
Long fingers of grass whispered against his bare calves and a gentle, playful wind danced through his unbound hair. His feet carried him onwards with practically no conscious thought on his part, allowing his thoughts to drift unfocused. He would reach the Garden no matter what direction he moved in. The Garden stood at the centre of this realm, its source and heart, a lodestone to all who made –or found- their way here.
Brice wished he knew more about the young Elvayn he had met in the palace. Once he would have been terrified to see it loose and un-Muted, but after his conversation with the Sacred One, Brice knew that he had nothing to fear. Just what role the Elvayn would play in forthcoming events wasn’t certain, but it would be an important role. He couldn’t name it, but there was something tremendous in that Elvayn. I hope you live long enough to reveal it to us. With Del’Ahrid now in power there was no telling what he would command with regards the Elvayn who were still enslaved.
Suddenly the world shifted around him. There was no other word for it – as if every tree and shrub and blade of grass had moved suddenly and simultaneously in every direction and then back into place. Brice sat down heavily, raising a hand to his head, dizzy. He felt a moment of intense fear, verging on terror, before he realized that he still lived. Nothing had ended, not the world nor his life.
But something momentous has changed.
Brice got to his feet, wary of another ‘shift’, and began to hurry towards the Garden.
Cobinian gave the High Cleric a measured, respectful nod and closed the door in her face. Not hard or loudly, just firmly. He dropped the latch into place, locking himself inside. So that she knew he wanted to be alone in this moment. This very personal moment. He turned and surveyed the room, marvelling at the stark appointments and lack of ostentation.
One carpet –an old one, fraying at the corners- and two chairs hardly made this room a chamber. The walls were undecorated, the small windows along one side dusty, their corners cobwebbed. Remove the Book and it would probably serve better use as a store room. No, this wouldn’t do, not at all. Not for the grand chamber that he had in mind. Not as a seat of power for the rulers of this world.
He turned a slow circle, overlaying the images that swirled in his mind with what he was seeing. The walls would need to be knocked down, the room’s size increased, perhaps to the point that it was the only room. He also saw columns marching outwards from the centre, radiating almost like the spokes of a wagon’s wheel – a double-line of columns paralleling paths that only the devout, only the holy, would be allowed to use. And at the centre, where the Book now stood on its stand… The throne, of course. It would be a thing of majesty beyond anyone’s knowledge or memory – perhaps it would slowly turn, powered by strong men in a chamber below the throne room.
Yes, it was coming together now. Not only the plans that he had set in motion and nudged along with each passing century, but also his vision of the future.
He turned back to face the Book of Mahaelal, as these devout humans called it, and allowed himself a chuckle. He remembered the day that he had presented a group of humans with the Book – remembered how they had cowered before him, unwilling to even raise their eyes or open their mouths without his leave.
The people of that ancient time had led much simpler lives – they lived in small communities, routinely fought amongst themselves for larger grazing areas, more water and even more women. It had been disappointingly easy to gain control of them, but once it was done it had been an easy thing to make them believe that they had caught the attention of a god. They believed him to be the god. He shook his head, the smile slowly withering on his face.
He was the one who had done everything, wasn’t he? He had created the Reavers, had very nearly managed to take full control of the Seed, and even though he could have returned home he had elected to remain here, to further the plans that would one day guarantee his father’s triumphant return. He had sacrificed so much, had faced century after century alone.
Cobinian clenched his hands into fists, trying to master the anger that was threatening to overcome him. The irony of it all was not lost to him. His choices had left him with no-one to turn to. His eyes narrowed on the Book. His choices… or his father’s choices?
He banished the thought with a snarl of anger. No, he was at the cusp, there was no reason to throw it all away now. He was doing this for his people, to answer the ancient betrayal of Ordaefus and his followers. He was doing this for –
His hands slowly opened as the anger left him, draining away like water into desert sands. I’m doing this for my father.
A father he had never known. A father he had very rarely seen, even spoken to. But that will change. Cobinian stepped forward, raising his hands. When he returns, everything will change.
He set his hands on the Book, closed his eyes. There would be no instantaneous shock of contact, he knew – the connection was of pure intentional energy, a bridge of consciousness that had been created and strengthened through the millennia. Yet even the speed at which intentional energy travelled was limited. Gradually, the silence took on form and substance – sound as solid as only darkness underground could be. The silence began to buzz in his mind, as if it was a vibration heard and not felt, and finally he began to sense the dangerously patient presence of the greatest leader the Elvayn had ever known.
Silence, yet the darkness seemed to flex around him, as if tremendous lungs were filling with breath.
Tell me, came the reply. A solid voice, like stone, as unyielding and emotionless. Cobinian could only imagine how his father must have changed, trapped in that darkness for thousands of years. The effort of will it must have taken…
The king is dead. The Sworn gather their forces on the western coast.
Cobinian fought to keep the grimace from his face. It wasn’t his place to question his father, he knew, but he couldn’t help thinking that knowing the child’s role in everything would help him to do his work better. Escaped, Father. With the king’s-
She is of no consequence, came the brusque reply, like a hand waved in irritation. Does the child have the dagger?
The king’s mistress was probably in possession of the dagger, but Cobinian saw no reason to try and explain that the dagger was, in fact, where the Elvayn child was. And besides, he wasn’t a child anymore.
Good. A long, drawn out wave of energy thrummed out of the Book and into Cobinian’s fingers.
Father, please, I-
The world went white, all sound fled.
Darkness smothered him.
When he woke moments later, he found that he was lying against a wall, his legs stretched out before him. His head and back throbbed with pain. His mind caught up and he lurched to his feet, staggering across the floor of the room toward the blur of colour against the far wall. No, please–
The blur resolved, the details stabbing like blades into Cobinian’s mind.
The Book was intact.
He reached out, touched a corner, felt the answering echo of power. But it was weaker, somehow more distant.
His first instinct was to make contact with his father again, to reach for and grasp the only presence that could soothe him. But he steeled himself, told himself he had achieved so much without needing his father’s guiding voice. Shaking the last of the ringing from his head, he broke contact with the Book, turned and stepped away, grimacing at the pounding in his head. Something that had been linked to the Book, to his father, had been removed. Either the link had been severed or –
Understanding dawned and he swore like a human. The dagger. “It’s been destroyed.”
How had the little runt managed it? Had he even known what he was doing? What he had done?
“Never mind that now!” Cobinian half-staggered, half-spun away from the Book, concentrating on the door at the opposite end of the room. Not a chamber. Not yet.
It was only as he reached it that he heard the pounding of fists against it, and then the strident commands of the High Cleric, shouting through the door.
“What happened in there? Open the door right now! I don’t care who you are-”
Cobinian popped up the latch and yanked the door open, pushing past the red-faced and suddenly silent human as if she wasn’t even standing there.
He was halfway down the corridor when she finally found her voice again. “Where are you going? What do you want us to do?”
Stopping before the door, he turned and growled, “Pray,” before striding away.
Keep an eye on this website, my FB page, my twitter feed and my publisher’s website for everything happening tomorrow. 🙂 I’m looking forward to getting this novel out there!
P.S. You met those beasts on the cover in the first novel – tomorrow you’ll begin to find out much more about them… 😉