Chapter 1: The Nemisin Star

Destiny stalks the twins

Margus and Torrullin are the two faces of a coin. No matter how opposite they are, they remain equal, except Margus has no qualms in using Torrullin’s twin sons against him; an agenda he knows causes his enemy suffering. To negate their destiny, desperately seeking release from their symbiosis, Tymall and Tristamil must fight until only one remains standing.

The Forbidden Zone is behind them; the wars of attrition return to Valaris. In a golden city waits a temple raised from a vision, and one night in every year a star shines through the aperture overhead. This is a connection to the world of Nemisin, the first homeworld. In this place where stars meet Torrullin must choose life and death for his sons. The scythe, however, forever silences someone dear to him; is he paying for his choice in the temple?

As the universe searches for the Light in all its brilliance, seeking peace, Torrullin begins to see himself as a prince among demons and therefore decides to change the rules. Death, after all, is not an end.

Too many lives have been lost.

Too many hearts have been broken.

Sometimes the only way to find peace is to lose oneself.

Chapter 1

Cold is pretty. Ice forms lace and the air is so clear it heralds angels. Leave me here; I am happy.

~Aris, Druid of Akanth

Valaris

Torrke – The Keep

26th day of Dormire

CLOSE ON SIX months had passed since the stolen ship left Valaris airspace on a mission to deal with Neolone and the Dragon Taliesman. Leaving in high summer, they returned as the first month of winter drew to a close. Snow had not yet fallen, the land was dormant and the air cold, animals were in hibernation and rains had swollen rivers and filled lakes.

Torrke, seat of Keep and Throne, was quiet. Like to the rest of the continent, the valley awaited the first snowfall. The Keep was ready for winter; roof tiles were replaced, gutters cleared, general repairs affected, and food and fuel stocks laid in. From the courtyard delicate potted plants moved indoors and the mosaic pool’s pump was off.

Into this courtyard the marauders alighted, doing so during the midday meal on a sunny day. Staff and Elders ate al fresco, and akin to avenging angels they appeared. A maid dropped her tray of dishes and went screaming back to the kitchens.

Torrullin dragged his headgear off, throwing it to the paving underfoot, and his fair hair was a beacon. It grew over the past months to coil untidily in his neck, a fringe flopping over his familiar forehead.

“Lord Vallorin!” Pretora gasped, recovering from shock.

“If I had not been who I am, Elder, this Keep would now be seized. Are you not on war footing?”

A dark cloud passed before the sun to snuff daylight. To a Valleur that was an omen, and Pretora was no different in his perceptions. He blanched, stared at his lord, and knew serious trouble had landed.

“Of course, my Lord.”

Torrullin strode forward, his companions following more slowly, with Caltian wide-eyed. The Atrudisin had wondered what Valaris would be like and admitted to curiosity over the Valleur Throne.

“Triple your efforts,” Torrullin said, and entered the Throne-room. He set muddy boots to the blue aisle carpet and paced towards his Throne.

Caltian stared at the golden seat. So long was Atrudis isolated that ages had passed since a Valleur from the Forbidden Zone had seen it. It was a simple seat, and it was imposing; dear Aaru. He wanted to run his hands over it, but the warning spoken about its effect on those not known to it was now imprinted. He dared not touch it. He could lose his life if he did.

Outside, dishes were whisked away, most with food on them, and tables and chairs vanished with alacrity, and so, too, the retainers. Their Vallorin had moods to be avoided.

Grim of face, the others arrayed to the sides of the seat. Torrullin sat, gripping the armrests as power infused him. He welcomed the infusion. He needed the infusion, although the thought was unformed.

Pretora was hesitant as he approached, and behind him Kismet was hasty as he entered. Kismet caught up, slowed him.

“What, Pretora?”

“A face like thunder? We are in for it, Kismet. Quiet now.”

Both men glanced at Caltian, a stranger from another world, and searchingly at Saska, but were themselves under scrutiny and did not react. Whatever emotion lay behind those faces, all of it spelled trouble.

“My Lord,” Pretora murmured, bowing. Kismet wordlessly did the same.

“Pretora, did Camot return from Atrudis?” said Torrullin.

“Yes, my Lord.”

“Send for him. Where are the Q’lin’la?”

“At the Temple, my Lord.”

I am on my way, Enchanter, Quilla sent before he could be contacted.

Torrullin grimaced. All gods, he wanted to sleep forever.

“Lord Vallorin?” Kismet said.

Torrullin looked at him.

“My Lord, there are Dragons here.”

Torrullin leaned forward, eyes sparking. “Yes?”

“They arrived on the cargo traveller with many Thinnings aboard.”

“They were guised as Xenians,” Pretora added.

“Where are they?” Torrullin asked.

Pretora put his hands together. “We have incarcerated them.”

“Goddess!” Torrullin snarled. Alongside him heads were shaken. “Did you not tell Quilla or Krikian? Release them immediately.”

He rubbed his eyes and drew breath. Her Majesty Abdiah, Kallanon ruler, Dragonne Queen, would have a few succinct words about this. Fortunately, she harked to diplomacy.

“Abdiah planned ahead,” Vannis muttered nearby, his voice on the edge of amusement.

She clearly sent the two Dragons as forerunners, suspecting the battle for the Light would come to Valaris. Abdiah, as Torrullin once remarked, was her own advisor.

Kismet ran out, leaving Pretora clutching his robe.

“Thundor was successful, thank Aaru,” Taranis murmured. “If duped.”

Thundor saved the Thinnings in the Forbidden Zone from Murs annihilation. Great foresight, but he might have brought his brethren to new disaster here.

Torrullin did not respond.

“Lord Vallorin, what is wrong? We thought you were able to end …” Pretora’s voice petered out when his ruler swung a silvery gaze to him.

Quilla appeared and instantly read the situation. He frowned at Pretora. “Leave, Elder; all will be explained. Prepare the bedchambers and order up …” He glanced at the bunch around the Throne. “… food and wine.”

“We have no time to drink, birdman!” Vannis snapped.

Quilla ignored him. “Go, Pretora, and better put some sedatives in the food.”

The Elder stared at him in horror and then noticed twinkling eyes. He made himself scarce, relieved. The birdman had a calming influence on the Vallorin.

Quilla swung back serenely to the group of marauders; their reputation had reached Valarian ears also. He had not believed a word of it and now wondered if he was wrong. He looked them over critically and his gaze fixed on Torrullin.

“You had a hard time of it, obviously, but there is no call to frighten your Elders and retainers. You need them.”

“They have been lax.”

“They have not. We ourselves only returned two weeks ago. We found Valaris secure, as you will no doubt recognise when you open your eyes. They do not know the full tale and are unaware of new dangers, but they are prepared as if mindful of every facet.”

“But they know the Dragon is gone.”

“That was, after all, the point.”

Caltian swallowed. He killed the creature and thus fulfilled his destiny.

“Where have you been?” Torrullin asked.

The birdman studied him calmly as he said, “We were on Atrudis. Much fear arose with the re-emergence of Emperor Teighlar and, despite the documents you prepared, insufficient Valleur believed in you to take you at your word. We stayed to smooth matters and that took some doing. Eventually the charisma of the Emperor himself won hearts, but it meant we were delayed in returning. What would you have us do, Enchanter? Leave that world to a different war. A civil war?”

Torrullin rubbed his eyes again. “You did well, and I am sorry.”

Quilla smiled.

“Grinwallin?” Saska whispered.

Grinwallin was a mighty city in the eastern region of Atrudis’ Tunin continent; a city built of stone set atop a great plateau. It delved the mountain behind it as well as stepping in tiers down to the plateau. Grinwallin, when they attained it in search of the Taliesman, was in ruin, but the ruins were odd for a city ninety million years abandoned; it seemed as if it fell into disrepair a mere century before. Magic kept the spirit of a fair city alive, proven when its resident Emperor, Teighlar, rose from ghostly form to become real.

Teighlar and Grinwallin were gifted a second chance. The team left the city before it arose in splendour, before Teighlar’s people, the Senlu, awakened with him.

The birdman gazed up with wonder upon his angelic face. “I am not one for cities and many people, but I would happily change my ways for Grinwallin. She is beautiful, simply entrancing.”

In leaving, they gifted the Senlu their second chance without the strife a Darak Or would unleash. It was decidedly a point of light.

Saska smiled.

Quilla transferred his gaze to Torrullin. “Her architect was a genius. Grinwallin was conceived with heart and soul. You would–”

“What?” It came out as a warning.

Quilla heard it and sighed inwardly. Perhaps the Enchanter knew the truth about Grinwallin. “… be proud, Torrullin.”

“Why would I be proud?”

“We were part of her renewal, Enchanter. We should all be proud.”

Torrullin’s silvery gaze moved away.

Quilla prompted, “Is he here?” He meant Margus.

“We think so,” Taranis replied when his son did not. “We lost him out there and there are no longer traces.”

“Full circle,” Quilla murmured. “We deal with it. For the present, you bathe and rest, eat. Leave the rest to me. I shall see the sites cloaked immediately and that Camot is ready.” He quirked his head. “You are home and amongst your own, and we shall aid in carrying this burden. Take some time to find your good humour before you speak again.”

The birdman swung around and exited the chamber.

“A breath of sanity, our Quilla,” Taranis murmured.

“Yes,” Vannis agreed, and left. Back home now, the death of his beloved Raken was again new.

Tristamil, his face expressionless, followed. He wanted desperately to see Skye, and knew it would be hard for them.

“Well, we are a cohesive unit,” Taranis said, and strode the carpet into the courtyard. He ignored the few curious retainers outside and bounded up the outer stairs to the suites.

“Matt, show Caltian to the guest area.” Torrullin waved after Taranis, and the two left without a word.

“I assume I may still claim a place in our suite, husband?” Saska asked. Her emerald eyes were cold and simultaneously challenging.

He stared at her. “You are my wife.”

“I am a stranger to you.”

“Gods, I cannot do this now. The suite is yours; I will find somewhere else.”

Saska stood before him. “You have sucked all the joy from me and treated me like the enemy. Do not humiliate me as well. It is our suite, and you will join me in it.”

“As you will, my Lady.”

She nodded and left.

TORRULLIN SAT FOR many hours. A gentle prompting from Kismet to eat went unheard and Quilla came and went, but he merely left the Enchanter to his thoughts. None of them realised it was more than introspection, more than strategies that kept him there, although those were factors.

The Throne held him, asking questions, receiving answers, without conscious thought. A communion, for the ancient sentient seat needed to know what was new and what was changed. One day the sentience would gift the kind of answers that would completely destroy Torrullin of the present, to remake him, but that day had not yet arrived. For now, the communion was mutual and satisfying. It, more than anything else, told him he was home.

It was dusk when he finally stirred, standing like an old man. He felt old. He felt guilty.

He wanted to sleep forever.

SASKA WAS UPSTAIRS and had arranged food and drink for him. He looked at her, silently sat, and ate slowly. He did not speak, and she did not interrupt. She watched, waiting for a sign of something more than enmity, but he revealed nothing. He was far away. He was also clearly drained.

“I have drawn you a bath,” she said, when he eventually pushed his plate aside.

Nodding, he entered the bathroom, closing the door. Sighing, she sat on the bed.

He eventually emerged bathed and shaven, wearing a dark blue robe, and halted in the doorway. There was a spark in his eyes and her heart tripped. Whatever it was, it would be better than cold anger.

“This is my fault, Saska. How do I deal with this?”

“I have no answer, Torrullin.”

He came to sit beside her. He smoothed her hair from her face, the first tender action since she appeared to him on Atrudis, and then dropped his hand and looked away. “Forgive me.”

She gazed towards the window, taking a breath. “Sleep. I shall keep watch.”

“There are many watching. Come, sleep as well.” He peeled the covers back. “We need to rest now.”

She studied him a while and moved to her side. Together they climbed in, lying stiffly until she turned to lay her head on his shoulder, pushing her hand through the flaps of his gown to lie upon the skin of his chest. He stiffened and then drew her close.

Gradually they relaxed, and sleep came.

They were home.

THE NEMISIN STAR

Now available: ANCIENT TERRA OMNIBUS

At the end of the Lore Series, Torrullin Valla and Elianas Danae vanish into the mists with their homeworld Avaelyn, but the story doesn’t end there. What happens to Tristan Skyler Valla, for example, about to embark on a Timekeeper journey with Alusin Algheri? Where is Karydor Danae, the reincarnate father Torrullin has yet to meet?

In EURUE: The Forgotten World, a century later, we find out about Tristan and Alusin’s future as they pit their talents against a man half-dead, half-alive lying in a hidden casket somewhere on Eurue. Gabryl embarks on a campaign to rouse the realms to Eurue’s forgotten status, using the strange spinning orbs known as daetal to further his ambitions.

In FAROCHIN: The Terraformed World, we meet Karydor as he wakes up to memory loss on Farochin ages before Torrullin has ever stepped forward as the power he will become. Karydor and Echayn Valla, his brother-in-law, soon find themselves racing to save Farochin from Felix of the Murs, who seeks to undo the terraform in order to become a god. Karydor seeks to atone before he meets his son.

In LYKANDIR: The Measured World, two kings look up to see a world on approach. King Androdin in the south and King Drakan in the north understand that it will lead to chaos, utter change. As clansmen, watchmakers and wer-men scramble for solutions, the kings find themselves face to face with the men from that world, led by Torrullin Valla and Elianas Danae. It seems Lykandir and Avaelyn seek to occupy the same space in the realm Avaelyn vanished into.

In AVAELYN: The Enshrouded World, the timelines align once more. A thousand years have passed, and Avaelyn returns to her designated place. However, many wish to keep Torrullin and Elianas at bay, and thus is their world wrapped in a shroud that blinds all to their presence. Meanwhile, the children of Reaume suffer to keep it that way, and that is simply unacceptable.

In AVIOR: The Mythical World, the true enemy is revealed, an Ancient Valla who seems hellbent on creating a seat of tyrannical power. To the world Avior, which most regard as a myth, all forces are summoned. The entire Valla family strides into battle, for only the Vallas can stop this Valla. What they discover below the surface is heart-breaking.

From the realms of time to the reality of lost souls, through hope and cruelty, we reconnect with familiar characters, and meet a host of new ones. An old sword with an agenda reappears, while a new talisman is forged from desperation … and so much more. An epic adventure, indeed!

ANCIENT TERRA

Chapter 1: The Kallanon Scales

An ancient map points the way …

… as well as a strange prophecy, and anyone who dares speak of either, dies.

A new enemy enters the Valla arena, but this one is as old as time and seeks a forbidden place. The terrible source of Valla power is uncovered. As friends and family are murdered, Torrullin reveals the truth about the Valla Dragon. He hurtles into battle when his twin sons are kidnapped, and takes with him into danger a pilot, a navigator and an innocent girl – they are the Dalrish seeking escape from Xen III.

Another truth rears up, the tale of the Nine who fled into the Forbidden Zone with a strange taliesman in the shape of a dragon. Quilla knows who the fire creatures are; the Q’lin’la fled them in ancient time. They are the Kallanon, the Glittering Darkness.

“There are dragons in my future,” Torrullin once tells Quilla, and that future is now.

War erupts on a world no more than a circle on an ancient map. There Torrullin discovers who his sons really are, Taranis of the Guardians confronts his inner demons, Bartholamu of the Siric faces his arch-nemesis, Q’lin’la and Kallanon are thrown into the same melting pot, an ancient emperor speaks again, the new Lady of Life is born, the Dalrish have a profound effect on Torrullin, and Vannis seeks revenge.

Chapter 1

We are formed in our present, actively and emotionally. And we are formed of our pasts, personal and historical.

~ Malin Drew

 Valaris

The Valley of Torrullin’s Keep

Graveyard

SUMMER’S HEAT HAD sprinkled layers of fine sediment upon the fawn stone of the ancient crypts. Saska traced an arrow into the dusty deposits beside the arch of an empty chamber, and entered the mote-filled space. A marker perhaps, to call to her husband Torrullin, to declare I am here.

Her thoughts being on Torrullin, distracting her, she thus did not see him until it was too late. His shadow loomed inward, and she whirled, blood pounding. In her introspection she had placed her life into his hands.

She trapped herself.

A perfect situation for a psychopathic sorcerer.

His striking face ugly with hate, he laughed like a devil from a child’s horror nightmare. His expression and his actions rooted her, paralysed all thought and action. The next moment was the one that would mark her death. No, he would kill her, but the next moment was meant first for utter degradation. She realised how aroused he was.

She had to defend now. Lifting her hands, she swiftly cast a shield of protection, but he countered easily, his face twisting in delight. He wanted her to fight, she understood. She staggered back into cold stone, fingers spread in desperate resistance, but she possessed no magic able to stop him, or anything to distract him long enough for her to flee.

He lifted a slim black whip, shook it in cold calculation, and then cleaved it to her repeatedly, spittle flying. She screamed once before placing her energy into surviving instead. Her gown split. She stumbled. Blood flowed, dripping to the sandy floor, and he thrust her viciously down, the whip’s handle hot at her throat. His free hand clawed at her bodice. She fought him with nail and tooth, causing him to laugh anew.

As he kneed her legs roughly open, his twin hurtled into the speckled space with murder in his eyes. Without saying a word, he attacked his brother, tearing at his hair, splitting his lip. Dragging him out, he struck him repeatedly, and hurled him against the crypt stone.

The brothers fought for long silent minutes, without quarter, coming within a breath of death.

Despite her relief, and a desire to see her tormentor dead, Saska whispered enough, thinking more of the agony Torrullin would suffer than her own, and they ceased. Heaving, beaten and bruised, they glared at each other.

She crawled slowly into sunlight.

Looking up at her persecutor and her saviour, she realised he had already altered his appearance to fit that of his twin. She could not tell them apart. She could not win, not then, not now, not ever. She knew the next encounter would be even more brutal, and he would engineer it for when his twin was absent. Neither brother apologised, for there could be no words.

Torrullin’s Keep

SHE HAD TO LEAVE or die here. Their love would die. She hated it here now, and thus spent her time elsewhere when the boys were in residence. They pretended respect for their father’s wife, but one was a liar and the other desired her dead.

At age five it was a deadly scorpion, a week later a lethal snake. At six, her horse spooked riding the ridges of the Arrows. Immortal she might be, but she could survive only to a point. The twins turned seven, a bad year. Poison, crossbow, and an attempt on her body while her mind roamed. At eight, after stabbing Nessie the cook, they left her alone for a while. No, he left her alone.

Quilla advocated years ago that she absent herself when they were in the vicinity, exactly when Torrullin needed her most. Now she did precisely that and it drove a wedge between her and her husband.

Yesterday’s terror made her decision final.

Saska went to Quilla at the Lifesource Temple for healing. His reconstruction was not as complete as Torrullin’s could be, for red welts remained on her arms, but no matter. Quilla, dear friend, had been sad. She saw the brothers earlier, both healed. What tale they spun their father she could not know, but Torrullin took pity again.

A screech filled the air and she looked up in time to see a hawk capture a smaller bird in mid-flight.

I am that little bird.

“Saska!”

She leaned over the battlements and saw Torrullin in the courtyard below. She waved, and then moved out of view. When she looked again, he strode through the great Dragon doors together with his sons Tristamil and Tymall. It was Millanu’s Naming Day and they were on their way to the Graveyard to pay their respects.

The last place she desired to be.

Wandering to the north-western side, she watched them and had to admit they looked good together. Three lean and fit men, the one fair, the other two with gold and auburn streaks. The Vallas. Glorious in their beauty, terrible in their power.

Torrullin looked back, angling his head upward, and she discerned disquiet. He knew something brewed, but he also chose to go on walking.

She lifted her gaze to the next rise, to the Graveyard. She noted Vannis’ stance in the distance, and Raken, his wife. Lycea, the twins’ mother, was there also. Both women had aged in the twenty-five years since she met them. Unlike me. I do not age. Yet today I feel truly old.

The boys lived at the White Palace with Lycea, occupying their own wing in Vannis and Raken’s home. Raken quietly informed Vannis the first time something happened between her and one of the boys, and Vannis gave both such a beating she dared not say anything thereafter. Vannis respected her silence, knowing how close he came to losing himself in violence.

Poor Torrullin, Saska thought. A virtual recluse, afraid of accusations he imagines in the eyes of friends and family. He is particularly shy of Vannis lately, Vannis, who at their birth twenty-five years ago told himto ensure the unrecognised babe did not take a first breath.

Going below, she wandered the Keep, recalling happier times. There were many. Making love anywhere, as the mood took them. Their wedding. Filling the empty rooms of the newly built Keep with treasures … yes, for a while they were truly happy.

Then the boys turned three and remembered their time in their mother’s womb. Valleur babies were aware before birth and thus the father needed to cradle, speak and sing to the unborn. Recognition and commitment entrenched before birth. Unfortunately, Lycea carried twins and one babe hid behind the other, and therefore remained unrecognised until labour commenced. He entered his world with hate infusing every atom, and only his brother knew him. They even sounded the same.

Inhaling a sense of grief, for happy times were no longer a sufficient foundation to build a future on, she went upstairs next.

Their personal suite comprised of a small sitting room, Torrullin’s select library, a bathroom and their bedroom. The whole was a haven as life after the Darak Or progressed into parenthood and rulership. Recently it became Torrullin’s retreat as he withdrew from social graces. To her it was a prison, the walls enclosing, and conversely it was also the only place she felt safe. No retainers were permitted, and neither were her stepsons. Torrullin found their bed slashed to ribbons one night, and instituted the rule the following morning.

Nothing I want here; too many memories.

She lay down, gaze touching on the little wooden Buddha from Beacon, the large jade shell from Canimer, her homeworld, and other arresting items on display. Too many memories indeed.

Shifting her gaze, she watched the pale woven hangings move in the breeze …

TORRULLIN’S TREAD ON the stairs awakened her. She started dragging a sleeved tunic on to cover the welts, and jumped from her skin when his warm hand arrested her attempt at concealment. She emerged from the item to look into his grey eyes.

Panic. Hers, and his.

Tossing the garment aside, she went to the window, staring blindly over the beautiful valley.

“Saska?” Torrullin’s voice was behind her, close. “Is this why you didn’t come?”

He took her hand and ran his fingers up her arm, his breath in her neck. She snatched it back. He would want to heal the evidence away and she did not wish him to. She needed the motivation.

“What happened?” he asked. “Why could you not come to me for help?”

“It doesn’t matter, Torrullin. It is done.”

He moved away then and she turned to see him sit heavily on the bed. A troubled gaze speared her.

“The boys?”

No, one boy. One man. “I am fine, do not worry.”

If he knew which son, Saska doubted not the young man would beg for his life this night. It was in his eyes, the need to punish.

“How?” He undoubtedly realised her injuries lay behind the beating they inflicted on each other yesterday. “What did he use?”

“A whip.” She swallowed and went to him when he paled, kneeling on the carpet to take his hands. “My love, leave it.”

“He will kill you.” It was the first time he admitted it aloud. “I will send them away.” He meant it, but his expression was bleak.

“That will solve nothing.” Saska took a steadying breath and loaded it with all the courage and conviction she could muster. Tightening her grip on his hands, she said, “Torrullin, look at me.” His expression was distant, in retreat, but he focused. “shall be leaving.”

“I am accustomed to that now.”

A knife twisted in her heart. “I am leaving permanently.”

He yanked his hands free to clench them into fists. “Saska, no, I will not allow him to drive you from your home, from me. We can get past this.”

She placed her hand on his knee. “As we got past others? The next one may be my swansong.”

He inhaled. “They will be gone in two weeks.”

She stood with determination and returned to the window. “This marriage has suffered enough.” Silence answered that statement, causing the hairs on the back of her neck to rise. “I deserve never to look over my shoulder. Please understand.”

“You are not coming back … ever?”

She swung around, and froze. It was as if someone bled life and colour from him.

“I will fight this,” he whispered.

Her heart lurched, gladdened by his willingness, but it was now far beyond that. Her voice failed her, and she swallowed and tried again.

“I leave because I fear for us.” She crossed the space once more and drew him close. “I love you more than life, you know that.”

He held her to him, face hidden in her chest. “Don’t go.”

All his power, and yet this he could not change. That power was hers alone. “I must do this.”

Torrullin released her and stood. He paced, and each step brought anger closer. His eyes darkened with every step. She did not want him angry, but maybe that would make this parting easier.

“I cannot do this alone!” he blurted.

“You already are. No one can help you with those boys. They drive what is good away from you. Soon there will be no place for me.”

“Never!” He came to a halt.

“You’re lying to yourself. Do you want me to say I will return when you have dealt with the twins? Do you want an ultimatum? How long do I wait? I love you too much to ruin what is left.”

They faced each other, breathing hard.

“Just like that?” he demanded, disbelieving.

“No, not just like that. I thought long and delayed this moment many times.” She reached up to touch his face.

He flinched, and then hauled her into his arms. “When?”

“Now.”

A shudder passed through his entire body. “Goddess, not now. You have thought; I am shattered in moments. Please, my love, not this moment. One more night. You and me against the world.”

His hold tightened and his heart thudded against her cheek.

A minute longer made leaving harder. A whole night might undo her completely.

“Give us a chance to say good-bye. I am begging, by god.”

It would change nothing, except to hurt more, but she could accept added pain, yes, to say farewell. Tears coursed over her cheeks. It was all right now to let him see them. They had one more night.

“One more night,” she whispered into his ear.

He sagged with relief, in hope, and pulled her even closer.

SASKA LEFT AT dawn, leaving Torrullin in dreamless sleep, her last sight of him a man peaceful, the lines of strain smoothed over, a small smile on his lips. He thought to hold her longer, but the tenderness and connection of the night would change nothing in the days to come.

She abandoned the Keep for another life, somewhere else.

THE KALLANON SCALES

Chapter 1: The Dragon Circle

How do you lift a weapon against someone you once loved?

Valarians prepare for winter. Many died in summer, more will succumb to the cold. While waiting for the opportune time to strike, Margus secretly begins a different kind of campaign: soul snatching. Having lost his army, he now rebuilds it with the souls of people in despair after the violence of summer’s confrontations.

Torrullin steps blindly into Vannis’ final prophecy. It brings him a great gift; it also leads to terrible betrayal. In the aftermath there is a change in the Valla Dragon’s place of residence, and Saska abandons Torrullin, leaving him in need of diversion. Belun of the Centuar is suspicious of the strange vanishings and it drives Torrullin offworld to find a ward against soul snatching, to end Margus’ reign of terror. He enters the forges of flame, and the man who emerges is reformed of fire to unleash annihilating heat.

Uninvited, Torrullin enters the Dome of his Guardian father, Taranis, employing a darkened doorway most Guardians believed inoperative, to become the harbinger of final days…

The Dragon Circle completes the forging of Torrullin Valla. The ambivalent Rayne’s tale began in the shades and shadows of a prejudiced world and moved into flame and fire, and now a new future unveils …

Chapter 1

Genius and insanity are engraved together on the same face of a coin.

~ Awl

Valaris

HE NO LONGER possessed an army. His symbiotic Horde succumbed to the Guardians’ symbiosis enchantment. It was a terrible manipulation; a body received a soul and a soul suddenly possessed a body, a melding they sought desperately to repudiate. More surrendered to summer’s annihilating weather. The few who survived both symbiosis and weather died in the Western Isles by the Enchanter’s hand.

He was now utterly alone in his quest. Even his partner in wickedness, the dara-witch Infinity, surrendered her long life to Guardian strength, leaving him without support. He was utterly alone, yes, but he was not about to surrender his quest.

Victory, therefore, required something incredibly special.

Then he found it. The perfect dungeon.

The absolute perfection of it inspired a new path, the discovery of that something special.

Weeks of crawling through dank caves and filthy tunnels to emerge bloodied and soiled finally offered up this extraordinary gift.

Margus swiped mud-encrusted hands over an even filthier tunic, eyes manic with anticipation. He had outdone himself; this was unqualified genius. The cavernous space, buried deep, was impossible to find, and utterly soundproof.

The perfect place to bind souls.

Poetic justice. The perfect revenge.

THE FIRST WAS a young woman. He found her curled up for the sleep of oblivion in a hollow within the roots of an ancient tree.

Valaris of the present remained drenched and was difficult to traverse. It separated Valarians not only in circumstances, but also in geography. Many wandered alone across wastelands, hoping to find others, searching for aid. Others simply abandoned presses of people to wander off into isolation, the better to deal with grief, the loss of hope.

A perfect set of factors for one seeking anonymity. In these early stages of setting new plans in motion, he did not desire to inadvertently trip over a sanctimonious Guardian or two.

The young woman was starving, near death. On her own, she would not last a day more, and there was no one in the vicinity to come to her aid, not that he cared whether she lived or died. It was a matter of the simplicity inherent in her weakness, for he was out of practice. The time since his previous reap until this, while not long, had leeched from him the energy and focus required. She was therefore the perfect first victim.

His little trial run.

She was also young; he had discovered youth lent a torn soul certain strengths, such as the fires of despair igniting swiftly to burn with intense heat, and that heat led to a terrible need to unleash hate.

Margus knelt beside her and brushed her fair hair from her cheek. So sweet. So perfect.

An instant later, she screamed.

Then she was eternally silent.

HE FOUND OTHERS. Many wandered in isolated places, aimless and hungry; several had given up trying. For some hope was dead, never to be resurrected. They were no more than walking dead. Most were alone, although a few straggled together, their desperation making fools of their efforts. They were men, for the most part, but he stumbled over a number of solitary women also.

It was a truth he encountered few children; either they were too weak to wander and died were they lay, or they had succumbed in uncountable numbers in summer. Children, as souls, were inefficient anyway, and he thus ignored them when he did find them.

He was selective with the men and women. He tracked those alone, unmarked by others, and chose them young, and he took them only when near death, injured, or wholly lost.

Thereafter he ferried each soul to his perfect place, a matter of thought over distance, and immediately commenced their training. For the most part this initially entailed keeping them trapped in the abysmal lightless dark. He permitted them a mere hour of light per day. It enraged them beyond the ability to measure.

Seven now, bound to his cause.

In a sense he returned to them purpose. Useless and helpless before he came upon them, they now possessed something to strive towards, a goal. One could call it hope, if one desired a label. How their silent screeches sounded akin to music when he doused the single candle; how entrancing that a soul screamed through the spaces of worlds.

He chose well. Not even a rumour of a whisper escaped his dungeon. Once more soltakin would touch Valarians, but this time death would come to them from their own. Poetic justice indeed. Something special, of a kind to set an enchanter upon a path to darkness.

THE DRAGON CIRCLE

Chapter 1: The Drowned Throne

An ancient seat has the power to destroy

From the cesspool of Silas Island into the underworld of Two Town, the battle continues. As epic storms batter the continent, men, women and children succumb to soltakin touch and darkling blade.

It is time to reveal the hidden half-race from under the sands of the Vall Peninsula; Valaris needs soldiers as much as she needs hope. It is time also to face Margus in his lair and throw down the gauntlet.

Arrayed against his might is the small team of defenders, among them Taranis of the Guardians, Vannis of the Valleur, and Torrullin, a man with a dual nature, who as often fights the darkness rising within as he fights to protect his world. Visions plague Torrullin; he struggles to find himself when fate appears omnipotent, and love ever beyond his reach.

The extinct Gosa volcano erupts as sacred sites implode, creating earthquakes and tidal waves. A monster surge races to the site of an epic confrontation before an ancient and powerful golden seat.

The Valleur Throne is about to assume ultimate status. Will it save or conquer their world?

Chapter 1

“Froth and waves, this is the citadel of knaves!”

~ Tattle’s Blunt Adventures

Northern Valaris

Silas Island

SILAS ISLAND POSSESSED one town; the land was now a gigantic city that spread from coast to coast in all directions. Silas Town was Silas Island and vice versa, a windswept, cold place, the mood ever surly and unwelcoming.

The buildings were sturdy affairs, buttresses against wind and cold, most many centuries old. Once Silas was a remarkable place, the city planners did well, and it stood Silas in good stead to this day. There were few shanties, but sewerage and refuse removal was non-existent; slop was thrown into dark alleys. Rain tanks in a state of unsanitary disrepair caught drinking water, drowned rats the least of the floaters in murky depths.

What did not kill in Silas made strong.

People were thin, but wiry, deceptively resilient, street smart, and complained ever of stomach trouble. Food was imported and paid for with stolen loot.

Unless one counted lonely, rubble-strewn beaches, open spaces were non-existent. The ocean was so polluted the strongest constitution dared not eat from it; the beaches, considered too unstable for building, were therefore convenient dumpsites.

Silas believed in street justice, a pretty name for murder and revenge killing, and there were gallows in almost every public square, entertainment in all weather. There was no ruling council, no sane voice; one survived by being stronger, smarter and quicker. One could hoard a fortune, and lose it the next day, as one could go to sleep hungry one night and steal one’s future in the morning.

Silas harboured the worst of Valaris.

Little Paradise

RAKEN’S SHIP, LITTLE Paradise, hung out of immediate sight of the infamous island. Although she was a regular to Silas, as a pirate herself, she was wary. She borrowed Kylan’s telescope and studied the harbour with misgiving.

“I like it not, Mr Tassel,” she said to her helmsman. “Too many ships this time. The storm sent them scurrying to anchor.”

Silas possessed a deep and protected harbour, the best on Valaris, and it lay in the hands of criminals.

Raken passed the telescope to Mr Tassel, who accepted it and mimicked his captain’s actions, only to gasp when the faraway harbour suddenly appeared close enough to touch. To his credit, he did not take it from his eye to stare at the other end; he used it well.

“Not an honest pirate about, Captain,” he affirmed. “I see Old Yell’s stinking ship. His crew will steal our beauty from under our noses, lazy as they are.”

“What do you suggest, Raken?” Torrullin asked as Belun joined them at the rail.

“I can’t risk my ship in there, Torrullin, safe water or not. Not only won’t we get a berth, but also, if Paradise isn’t stolen, she’ll be burning to the waterline by nightfall. I suggest we go north again, find a sheltered beach and, under cover of darkness, row ashore. Mr Tassel can take the ship to Sheshi and await our signal.”

“Captain? What signal? We’ll be too far away.” Mr Tassel was clearly confused.

“Have no fear, Mr Tassel; Torrullin will contact you.” Raken grinned at her loyal helmsman, who thought better of asking how.

“Aye, Captain.”

Torrullin grinned at Raken. “You are a different persona aboard. Even I am afraid of you, but only a little, mind.”

Raken’s laughter pealed out. “Music to my ears!”

VANNIS TURNED A sullen look on the two laughing together at the rail, causing Taranis to chuckle. They sat comfortably in the shade of the helm’s awning reading from Raken’s store of interesting books; a pleasure Vannis particularly enjoyed.

A day and a night had passed since the Mystic Island and its terrors and losses. Everyone else was below deck, slumbering the heat of the day away.

“Ah, Vannis, now you have an inkling how I feel.” Taranis gestured with a book in one hand to Raken and Torrullin. The two had grown close, often together to discuss evasive strategy on the water if beset upon. “There is nothing there, don’t worry. The stunning Raken has eyes for no one but you, despite my attempts at warning her, and as for Torrullin …” Taranis shut his mouth and buried his nose in his book.

“I do not care where Raken looks,” Vannis said.

“Then why the bad mood?”

“Don’t, Taranis. Women are pretty packages of trouble. I have no need for them.”

“You’re not a monk, as far as I know. And that, my friend, is one volatile package.”

Vannis studied Raken over the top of his book.

He watched as she directed her helmsman to turn about, watched her share a joke with Belun, and watched her with his grandson, noticing the easy camaraderie between the two, not remotely sexual, and was relieved.

She was as stunning as Taranis said and was indeed an impulsive personality, but he sensed she was not a woman to enjoy casual encounters. She would give all when she fell in love. He wondered if she had loved like that, and the thought irked him. What had Taranis said? She had eyes only for him. Was it true?

Despite better judgement, his blood stirred.

He was a man familiar with female attention, having always had them at his will and whim. They fawned over him even after he wed Mantra. Millennia of incarceration had damaged the memories, though, until he thought of sex as no more than irritation. It dampened his drive, and he felt no envy of Torrullin for pointedly garnering attention. He pitied his grandson the frustration.

He, Vannis, never suffered a strong sexual and emotional pull to any woman, not even Mantra, and could not fathom the physical magnetism, although he grasped it intellectually. There was a crash and burn episode as a youth, thereby discovering the meaning of the green hue to his changeable eyes, but that was a youth’s folly, and never befell him again.

With Raken, however, he felt it on meeting her, and squashed it. He did not seek the complication.

And she is mortal, fool, he admonished, catching a few erotic thoughts chasing around his mind.

“I don’t want ‘volatile’,” he muttered.

“Took you long enough to say that,” Taranis remarked.

Torrullin sauntered over to share Raken’s decision. He sat and stretched. “It makes us less conspicuous anyway.”

Taranis mused, “In the dark? On Silas? Conspicuous or not, it is not a comforting thought. I wonder how much impact the soltakin have in that cesspit.”

“They are a wily lot. No doubt they avoid this hole like they avoid water. Darklings on the other hand blend easy as long as they hide their faces. I am sure they have left their mark,” Torrullin murmured.

“Tell me again why it is we go there,” Raken said as she approached.

Torrullin peered at Vannis’ shifting eye colour. He sent a startled look at Taranis, who managed to grin on the sly.

“Because Margus will think twice about sending his army this way,” Vannis replied.

“Yet we dare,” Raken remarked.

Vannis shrugged.

“And how do we blend in?”

Torrullin laughed and lifted her long copper plait. “We smear ash into this and mud on your face and force you to wear old garments.”

Raken pouted. “You insult me, dear Torrullin. I don’t have anything old!” She leaned over and pecked him on the cheek, ruffling his hair, and went below deck. “I’m off to see a man about dinner!” she called over her shoulder.

Torrullin studied Vannis, who clearly tried to control his temper. “Ah, grandfather, she has got you, hasn’t she, down to your smallest Valla toe! I knew she would; I saw it in Two Town.”

Taranis grinned.

“No,” Vannis snapped.

“Leave it, son,” Taranis murmured.

“Why?”

“She is mortal,” Taranis said.

Vannis made a choked sound, and his eyes were abruptly emerald, the colour signifying fear … or desire.

TORRULLIN AND TARANIS locked gazes in understanding, with Taranis comprehending Vannis’ violent denial of his green eyes on Mara Isle. Vannis closed them and kept them that way for a time. Torrullin knew well he could not point out the question of mortality had not stopped him and Saska, or that immortality would only complicate it further.

Vannis was his own man … and Taranis would be the one listening.

BEFORE IT WAS too dark, Mr Tassel and the First Mate found a landing area. Raken confirmed his choice.

The ship lay at anchor while they enjoyed a meal before venturing into the underbelly – sustenance there would be scarce.

Torrullin laid healers’ hands on all, removing residual injury. The Dragon on Vannis’ chest appeared to snarl at him when he touched the Valleur, which shocked him, but Vannis said not a word, and he preferred to leave that subject untouched. He admonished them to be careful and alert, saying he could not resurrect the dead. He was not a god.

They dressed in dark clothes and kept gear to a minimum. The women’s long hair tucked under seamen’s woollen caps, as was Vannis’ golden glory and Torrullin’s fairness.

The Centuar was a problem; no clothes fit, and his golden skin and hair and shining silver eyes would be a beacon of light in the darkness.

“All right,” Belun growled. “I’ll change, but I can’t make myself smaller!”

They were amazed as his skin darkened to an even tan and his hair dimmed to grey.

“And your eyes,” Taranis prompted.

Growling, the Centuar’s eyes changed from silver to brown.

“That’s better,” Taranis laughed.

“Boring, if you ask me!” Belun roared.

“Fantastic,” Raken breathed, and Lanto’s head nodded on a puppet string.

Raken found a blue robe to fit the Centuar – it covered the essential bits – and McSee settled for a robe and over-tunic, being only marginally smaller. McSee’s red hair hid under a cap.

“I feel like a girl!” Belun shouted.

McSee laughed. “You’ll get used to it. It can be quite, er, liberating.”

Raken gave final orders to her crew, and they went ashore. It was the fifth night of New Moon.

Silas Island

THEY BARELY CRESTED the dunes, stepping over filth years old, when they came upon the first buildings, and from there it was never-ending. It was after midnight, but Silas never slept. They drew attention immediately.

“We’re too big a crowd,” McSee muttered, and palmed one of his techno-stars. On Silas, a weapon was imperative.

“We must separate,” Taranis confirmed, hand on the hilt of his sword.

They earlier agreed on a meeting place in the event they parted or accidentally separated. Raken owned a warehouse in Silas Town proper, guarded by a fierce individual called Feathers. The apartment was above the warehouse, and she said with confidence they would be safe there. They would lay low there as well. Margus, Darak Or, would not find them where the presence of encompassing criminality was a signature that masked all.

“McSee and I travel together,” Belun murmured. “Paired we attract less attention.”

Taranis nodded and the two peeled off after hurried good wishes. A rough young man followed, but Taranis doubted the two would have much trouble. Dogs barked at their heels and when Belun hissed at one before vanishing from view, causing it to yelp, Taranis grinned. They would be fine.

“Kisha and I together,” Kylan stated. He refused to part from her again, after what happened to her in the clanlands.

Torrullin nodded. “Take Lanto with you.”

The three nervously, Lanto with huge eyes, disappeared in another direction.

“Will they be all right?” Taranis questioned, not as sure they would go unmolested.

“Lanto has a strange presence,” Torrullin murmured. “It keeps evil from him, even this home-grown kind.”

“He was hurt most on the island,” Lycea frowned.

“Exactly; in a battle the opposite would be true.”

There were six left, and they delayed undecided. From an alley to their right cutthroat youths appeared, knives glinting.

“Use no sorcery,” Taranis warned.

“We must go,” Vannis frowned.

“Saska and I will travel together,” Torrullin said.

She said nothing, looking at the slimy ground. Taranis looked from one to the other, Torrullin meeting his gaze head-on, and inclined his head without a word.

“Very well,” Vannis murmured. “Then the four of us will go our way.”

Lycea appeared about to protest, but Taranis took her arm, and they left as the youths approached. The youths stopped nearby, chose the easier prey of only two, and closed in. There was no time for explanations, warnings or the words of safe journey.

SASKA SAID, “DO you want to fight these?”

“No, they’re just kids. Let’s go.” Torrullin grabbed her hand and they sprinted away to the sounds of jeering and catcall.

Once they left the gang behind, they slowed to a walking pace.

“I’m worried about Kylan’s group,” Saska muttered.

“Do not underestimate Lanto; he will surprise us yet.”

They walked in silence a while, overwhelmed by the stench of Silas, narrowly escaping a deluge of slop. An old hag cackled at the sight of their disgusted faces. Dogs barked and snapped everywhere, reed thin.

The narrow, twisted alleys were a wet and stinking mess of living and dead matter. The ghettos of hell. Saska shuddered, wishing there was an easier way.

“Why?” she asked after a time. “After what you said about us having no future?”

“Because of what you said in answer.” His voice and face was expressionless.

She pondered that. What had she said? Oh. That she would never go to Taranis if she loved Torrullin as much as she wanted him, then she foolishly admitted she loved Torrullin more. It made sense then to leave her in Taranis’ company, there being no way she would reveal feelings to Taranis … except … Lycea would be here now and that did not bear thought.

“You should’ve taken Taranis with you.”

“Too late.”

“You made a statement, Torrullin.”

“Yes.”

“To Taranis? Are you trying to hurt him?”

“No to both.”

“Torrullin.”

“I haven’t thought it through.”

“You’re angry.”

“Only because I am glad you are with me.”

She swallowed. “Vannis was glad to have Taranis with him.”

“He did not want to be alone with Raken, and Lycea would encourage them.”

“Vannis and Raken? How did I miss that?”

He glanced sideways at her, smiling.

She smiled back. Of course, too self-involved.

Hours later, they found an empty doorway and sat to rest. Silas had quietened somewhat, and the alley was obviously not as frequented.

She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. It was the first time they had been completely alone.

“Do you love me at all?” she whispered, and felt him tense. Immediately she wished she could take the words back.

“I think I have told you how I feel.”

“You haven’t said much.” Well, she made the mistake already, may as well push it further.

“I cannot express what I cannot feel.”

“Your actions say you don’t love me.”

“Why would that have changed?”

“Because you have.”

“Nothing has changed.”

She sat up and pulled his head to face her. “Are you forcing me to walk away?”

“I am saying it, for it is the truth.”

“I wonder if you’re even aware how little sense you make. During the battle on Mystic Island, you came to my defence first, and in the heat of it, you held me.” There were tears in her eyes. “I said your actions deny me, yet I’m not so sure. You are not sure.”

“You belong to Taranis; he could not come to your aid.”

“Liar!”

He smiled at that.

“You do love me.” She stared into his eyes; he stared back. “You are a hypocrite. You brought me along when it could easily have been your father, and then you state I belong to Taranis. You try to decide what hurts you less – hurting your father or losing me.”

He shook his head.

“You use duality to excuse your contradictory actions.”

“Unfair, Saska.”

“Then what? Why pull me near and push me away simultaneously? If you care about Taranis’ feelings, I shouldn’t be here at all.”

Torrullin stood and pulled her to her feet. “Someone’s coming.” He moved to go, and stopped. “We are always surrounded, you and I, and that interferes with choice. Mine.”

A flurry of footsteps drew every closer. They did not move.

“You have a choice? When you say Taranis’ sanity will come to mean more?”

“Saska,” he whispered, leaning close, “I have my sanity to consider. Remember what you said about ownership? I feel the same, I want you wholly mine, and it has nothing to do with sex, or love. It is obsession, it hurts and, so help me for admitting this, I like it. I asked you to come to lay a spectre to rest … or not. At the end of this filthy journey, I part from you either because I find Taranis means more to my future or because I can do so without reservation. Therein lays my sanity.”

Coarse, drunken swearing sounded, closing in.

“It matters not what I feel?” Saska whispered.

“If we do this right, your choice will be simplified.”

“You would deny yourself this obsession?”

“As you should. The problem, of course, lies in whether I can deny you.”

She was about to reply when a call went out. Glancing over her shoulder at faces that leered at the sight of a clean woman, she said, “Gods, they look none too friendly.”

THEY SPRINTED IN the opposite direction and the cutthroats, seven in all, gave chase. Corner after corner, and still they came, shouting crude endearments promising Saska the time of her life. Perhaps the lateness of the hour and slim pickings caused their pursuers not to give up on their quarry. Whatever it was, both Saska and Torrullin quickly realised they would not be ignored and released, and they could not outrun their pursuers.

There would be no help from anyone either; in fact, people deliberately tossed obstacles in their path when they caught sight of the hunted and their hunters – an old crate, a rusted bucket, and one woman tossed boiling water from above, the splashing liquid scalding their calves as it landed behind their fleeing backs. The sound of raucous laughter accompanied that one.

“We can deal with this,” Saska gasped as they rounded another corner.

“They have the entire population on their side,” Torrullin muttered, ducking a deluge of rotting vegetable peels. “No sorcery; too traceable.”

“I can’t run much …”

Saska slipped on a slime trail, but Torrullin lifted her without breaking stride.

“Then they cannot either, drunk as they are, they will give up soon.”

It did sound as if the chase lagged, but luck deserted them. They ran into a blind alley and suddenly the hunters were too close for comfort. The far side was a ten-foot brick wall and the hunters crowed when they found their prey trapped.

“Up.” Torrullin indicated an open door on their left.

Saska sprinted in without stopping.

The sights and smells caused them to gag, but the gloom thankfully hid most of the visual stomach churners.

The stairs were old and treacherous.

“Roof,” Torrullin heaved.

How many storeys, they did not know, but certainly more than four. They were halfway up when they heard one of their pursuers go down, tripped up, cursing as he went rolling down. By the sound of the resultant shouts, screams and curses, he took his comrades with him.

Saska and Torrullin continued upward and burst onto the roof. The sound of pursuit died away.

“They will be waiting if we go back down,” Saska gasped, holding her sides.

“Then we find an alternative route.”

“Rest a minute, will you?”

Torrullin laughed, chest heaving with exertion. “I haven’t run like that since Rayne was a teenager.”

“I’ve never run like that; I used to swim away.”

They peered over the roof edge. It was a long way down. There was an open square below; buildings like the one they were on hemmed it in. It was too dark to see what purpose the square had in daylight.

“I’ll warrant it’s not for rest day picnics.” Saska muttered.

Torrullin studied the rooftops, thinking there might be the way down, but they were either too far for a leap or so much higher.

He discovered an old water hawser, threadbare and useless, but long enough to reach the ground below. A rope of sorts. He tied one end around the rail at the top of the stairs and tossed the other end over the edge. He gave it a dubious look.

“I don’t know, Saska.”

She giggled. “What use sorcery, when we have this?”

He grinned at her. “You go first, you’re lighter.” Torrullin’s grin widened when that wiped the smile off her face.

She sent an ashen look over the edge. “I don’t know,” she said, echoing him.

“No choice, my sweet! Away with you!”

Gingerly she clambered backward over the edge, gripping the hawser. It tore slightly and her heart hammered in her mouth. Inch by inch she went safely down.

He discerned her pale face in the dark below and his heart constricted. She appeared terribly vulnerable down there alone in the shadowy, deserted square.

Torrullin was halfway down when the hawser gave. Cursing and muttering, he released his grip to slide down, burning his hands in the speed of descent. He landed with a painful thump and cursed some more when the entire length rained down upon him, including in the ignominy a piece of stair rail.

“Are you all right?” Saska whispered, frantically pulling at the mess.

“Never better,” he returned, sending her into another fit of giggles. “Let’s get away from here,” he snapped, and dragged himself out.

Walking across the square, they discovered why the place was forsaken in a city that seemed never to sleep.

It was a gallows.

Even cutthroats would steer clear, except on the day of actual hanging when all came to gawk like barbarians.

She shuddered, mirth gone. “There is nothing beautiful here.”

“Come,” he said, putting his arm around her and leading her away.

THE DROWNED THRONE

Chapter 1: The Kinfire Tree

Kin is Everything

We return to the Land of Skies. One battle is already behind the team, the disastrous events upon Ardosia; time now to concentrate on the stability of Valaris, or the same fate awaits her.

Hidden from humankind are fourteen sacred Valleur sites, built upon nodes of power. Vannis Valla advocates unveiling them to restore balance to the earth, which will aid in the fight against Margus. The Darak Or has other ideas, and unleashes his soltakin …

In the north, Averroes discovers her true past, and she and Kylan run the Maze gauntlet. Kisha, Mordan, Cristi and Samson prepare the clans of old for eternal night. In the south, Vannis, Rayne and Saska, along with the charismatic little Falcon, Phet, move from site to site. Taranis and the Guardians delve arcane ritual in the Dome to find the answers to the ending of soltakin, while expecting Infinity to bring her Darkling Horde into the mix. Meanwhile McSee, unmasked as traitor, meets the crazy Lanto and they hatch a bold plan, involving a pirate and ancient loot.

Rayne begins the internal battle that will change all. It began for him on Ardosia when he touched Vannis only to release blue sparks between them. The ruling house is almost extinct. How, therefore, does a Valla recognise the blood for the future? By the blue flame of trebac. Kinfire. The legendary Vannis is kin, but there is more in store for Rayne than the reality of this profound connection.

The Kinfire Tree has many branches hidden in its foliage, a condition Rayne suspects, a greater truth he must reveal …

Chapter 1

Go to the mountains, son, and sing songs of praise. Majesty is in timelessness.”

~ Father Rees

Vall Peninsula

Northern Valaris

DESPITE HIGH SUMMER elsewhere, it was bitterly cold in the far north. Icy winds came off the towering Legend Mountains in the distance. The giant slopes were covered in snow almost to the point where rock met land, capped with dark, threatening clouds. A storm brewed there, and it boded ill for the two travellers. They were not dressed for it.

In sharp contrast to the whiteness, the wasteland they crossed was ochre in colour. Loose dust puffed up with every step as if they walked in low gravity and it blew up into their faces with every gust of icy wind. Already they were barely distinguishable from their surroundings.

It was an empty land, abandoned, lonely, and frighteningly different. There were no trees. There was no water. The only tangible objects on that vast plain were edged, black pebbles hidden in powdery dust that served to trip.

Averroes could not believe she was born here, that someone took her across this to the south.

They had been walking for hours. Vannis said she would instinctively know where to go, but she felt nothing other than burning thirst. They had not brought enough water; she had one swallow left, as did Kylan.

Would this never end? The barren ochre plain stretched in every direction. Only the mountains to the north relieved the disheartening vista. Now that stirred something within her. Did it mean they needed to walk all that way?

She groaned aloud.

“Averroes?” Kylan said hoarsely behind her. He was a wonderful companion, ever uncomplaining.

“I’m fine; just wishing I knew where to go.” Her voice, she found, was equally gruff.

“Wait, Averroes, I see … what is that?”

Kylan, when she turned, pointed at a patch of black growing in size as they walked. It was on the ground directly ahead, and she had not even seen it.

“I don’t know.” Her heart commenced an uneven rhythm.

As they drew closer, the black patch materialised into a perfect circle, recessed, about three feet in diameter.

“It’s not natural. Do you recognise it?” Kylan queried as they halted at the edge of the sphere. It was smooth like stone eroded by the ceaseless movement of water.

She shook her head and knelt to touch. It was warm and there was a minor vibration under her fingers. She placed her hand flat on the surface, and it moved. Snatching her hand back, she stumbled away from the edge and pulled Kylan with her.

“It’s moving!”

A circular tube rose perpendicular to the ground and halted at about seven feet, still attached to the earth.

“What is that?” Kylan asked, passing a hand before his eyes to check his sight.

“No idea.”

They heard a whooshing sound. What appeared to be doors retracted into the sides of the cylinder.

“I have read something about this. I don’t know what you call it, but I think one travels in it, up and down. I think we’re supposed to get in.” Kylan was clearly uncertain.

“This is technology, then? Can we trust it?”

“Unless we want to walk to nowhere without water, we have no choice. Vannis did say the half-Valleur were underground. Come, take my hand, we will do it together.”

They linked hands and approached.

“Ready?” Kylan asked, and when Averroes nodded, they stepped in quickly, fearing the doors would close on them before they were fully inside.

Once in, they stood waiting, feeling peculiar in a black cylinder in an ochre desert, but nothing happened. Long moments passed as they kept glancing at each other for reassurance. Nothing inside offered a clue on how to operate the device.

Kylan shrugged and Averroes giggled.

“Well, it can only go one way, hopefully. Why does it not move? Surely it should go down …”

On the word ‘down’ the doors closed. A ceiling light came on and there was the sensation of falling. They could not tell how fast they went, thus could not estimate distance. What seemed an eternity later, but was no more than minutes, the tube came to a halt; the doors whooshed instantly open … behind them.

“Oh, boy,” Kylan muttered as they both turned.

Directly ahead was a wall, white and blank. Peeking around the doors, they looked left and right. It was a corridor, stretching unendingly both ways, lights evenly spaced along the ceiling, glowing muted white.

It was deserted.

They stepped out. The doors closed, and the device remained stationary.

“Now what?” Kylan whispered, looking at lights that needed no flame to burn. The nearest phenomenon he could summon to mind was the solar glows in Galilan’s Prism Park.

Pick a berry; pick two, three, four

Eat them; eat them well

Come again for more …”

Averroes recited a child’s rhyme, wagging her finger left and right with each word. She ended pointing right. “That way.”

“You’re not serious.”

“One way is as good as another, and I still have no sense of recognition.”

Kylan laughed nervously and went right. A hand strayed to his upper thigh where his knife was. Averroes pulled hers from her boot to put it in her jacket pocket.

They walked a long while, at first warily, but as time passed and no one appeared to challenge them, they relaxed and strolled more casually.

Other than the pools of light that came and went as they passed, there were no changes to the stark corridor. It was spotless, the air fresh and the temperature comfortable.

They came upon a recess; a square space penetrating the rock beyond. There was a white basin on a pedestal, a black button on the side, with a spout inside the basin. They knew what it was. Basins and baths in the south were of stone, wood or copper, and taps were rudimentary, hot water piped in from an outside fire and cylinder, yet a basin was a basin.

Averroes pushed the button and from the spout, and a jet of clear water erupted.

“Water,” she breathed. Putting one finger in, she tasted. “Fresh.” She grinned and leaned in to drink her fill, before standing aside.

Kylan needed no coaxing.

They then filled their bottles and took the opportunity to change into fresh clothes. Ochre dust permeated the material they removed and they shook the garments thoroughly before packing them away. The white floor was red by the time they were done.

Much refreshed, morale higher, they stepped back into the corridor.

A low hum filled the air behind them. The ochre dust on the floor dissipated and disappeared. The humming stopped.

“Technology,” Kylan said. “I don’t know my world at all.”

They went on.

A while later the corridor reached a junction. Again, they had a choice of either left or right. The left was blue, the right green, the two colours meeting in a perfect line before them. At least the unrelieved white was gone, but there was no further sign to aid them.

Indecisive, they peered both ways. All was quiet.

“I think there are doorways, look.” Averroes pointed along the green arm. There were rectangular shadows further down.

Kylan thought it could be anything, but it was change at last, thus he nodded.

A muted clang emanated from the same direction. They were here to find people, not avoid them, and even if it was danger they found, it was infinitely better than the sense of being the last two people alive on the planet.

They chose to go right.

The closer they came, the more Kylan had to admit Averroes was right; doorways indeed and doorways usually meant …

… without warning someone stepped out left ahead, to cross the corridor into a doorway right. The impression the two intruders had was of a flowing purple robe.

Kylan was flat against the wall, knife in hand. His reflexes surprised him.

They crept forward.

Kylan peered around the right-hand doorway into which Purple Robe vanished. It was a large yellow room with benches attached to the walls. In the centre, there was a square table, about two feet high, of blue marble, matching the blue of the benches. On the table was a statue of a little girl holding aloft the moon, sculpted from a bluish-grey marble akin to the moon itself. Her little face was alive with the joy of holding something so precious. Kylan was riveted.

Abruptly, from another doorway in the far corner of the room, Purple Robe appeared.

Crikey, I will one day cause my own doom, if it is not today, Kylan thought.

On seeing Kylan, Purple Robe dropped the tray he carried. Loaded as it was with empty crystal goblets, the resultant noise was shatteringly loud. He uttered a shrill cry.

Averroes, studying a similar chamber on the left, dashed across.

That cry!

Kylan was rooted, mesmerized by the yellow eyes of Purple Robe, the cry resounding in his ears.

Upon seeing him thus, Averroes’ memory jiggled, shifted and opened … of another life … clutching her head in an influx of images, each vying for supremacy, she nonetheless had the presence of mind to run headlong into Kylan, jolting him to break his transfixed state.

“Don’t look at him! Block your ears!” she managed, shouting over the noise while battling the images of returning memory. “He’s paralysing you! Do it!”

Kylan sank to the floor, fingers in ears, eyes screwed shut.

She entered the yellow room. Purple Robe turned his gaze on her, continuing his ululation.

Staring straight into his eyes, she said, using the common tongue of Valarians, “It won’t work on me. I’m half-Valleur.” It was true; she was half-Valleur. She now knew it with certainty.

Blinking his eyes, Purple Robe shut the din off. He stared at her in horror, while she bent to grip Kylan’s shoulder.

The Herbmaster looked up at her, unblocking his ears. “All right?” he asked.

“It will be,” she said. “Get up.”

“Who are you? You are a trickster! Half-Valleur have yellow eyes!” Purple Robe cackled, evidently thinking he caught her out.

Averroes put her hands together. “’A dark-eyed child will be born among you. She will be the Changeling who …’” she recited in Valleur. Vannis was right; a Valleur baby never forgot. I am home.

Kylan shifted her way on hearing her speak in Valleur, familiar to him now after both the Guardians and Rayne had uttered enchantments in it.

“No, no …” Purple Robe’s eyes were wide. “… it cannot be … you were … we …”

“You left my mother and me for dead, yes.” Averroes said.

Purple Robe sank onto the nearest section of bench, setting it a-quiver with his great bulk, his face ghostly, trembling as if with fever.

“By all the gods, is it time?”

THE KINFIRE TREE

Chapter 1: The Infinity Mantle

There is a darkness coming …

Rayne of the Mantle, to confirm Infinity’s presence on Valaris, knowing the witch will seek her revenge for the death of her son, travels to Farinwood to find Aven. The old magician will know. There he discovers changeling children, a secret Society of Sorcerers, the mysterious waif Averroes, as well as the Maghdim Medaillon, a dangerous coin that creates a thread of light between two realms.

In another universe, the Darak Or Margus watches for the perfect opportunity to annihilate the world Ardosia and its people. He desires to avenge an ancient terror and has been patient too long. Separating the two realms is a vast Chaos barrier, a roiling darkness both Infinity and Margus will deploy as a weapon of ultimate manipulation.

Two worlds will soon burn.

Taranis of the Dome Guardians, summoned to witness what will happen to Valaris should Ardosia fall, is forced to endure the terrible blockade. In the aftermath, the Guardians gather to defend against the influx of this new evil, as is their sworn duty to the universe.

Rayne, meanwhile, dreams of a little girl from another land desperate for help, while on Ardosia a toddler rouses from a nightmare, screaming, “It will all burn, daddy!”

Another awakens; a legendary figure from the forgotten past, creator of the Maghdim Medaillon, the true ruler of both Valaris and Ardosia. His time is now.

There is a darkness coming.

Chapter 1

“This is creepy, boy; it’s about to tumble into the whirly-swirl.”

~ Tattle’s Blunt Adventures

Valaris

RAYNE RESTED ON the final descent from the high pass, sitting on a boulder sipping tepid water. Exhausted after four days hard travel and battered from losing traction on a scree slope earlier, he wished for the oblivion of sleep.

Farinwood, journey’s end, was now close, nestled in a valley where the soil was fertile and moist all year. Gazing down upon the old stone town facing the Corridor Mountains behind him, he hoped for a decent bed and time to sleep in it.

Dense vapour shrouded the lower hills and enveloped the valleys beyond in murky shadows and was the reason he had embarked on his rough journey. Rumours of darak sorcery and sightings of the dara-witch Infinity had the Mantle in turmoil; before him lay the proof. At this point in summer’s mastery, mist was a mere wish and yet it now veiled Farinwood.

Forcing his aching body to move, Rayne followed a track only goats knew of to enter the town and, as he stepped off the splintered bridge spanning the canal, the weight of rampant sorcery pressed down upon him, settling as a weight upon his shoulders. The channel was ridden with algae, he noticed; not a comforting sight, for this was Farinwood’s drinking water.

The town itself was gloomy with vapour trailing tendrils like spooky fingers from a netherworld. The quaint, old buildings were shuttered, blind; the cobbled streets slick with misshapen moss in cracks.

Shivering, he hastened onwards. Nightfall approached and he had to find Aven before darkness claimed these streets.

The first evidence of Infinity’s malevolence upon people also was revealed in a cluster of surly men bearing knives and cudgels, even a rusty saw. Rayne halted when he saw them, realising Infinity no longer limited her coercion to nature.

The men looked around him, unseeing after initial scrutiny. Something else was on their minds and they were petrified. When one murmured to another about night closing in and now was not the time to become distracted, Rayne understood the coming darkness held the real terror Infinity had unleashed here.

Aven could wait until morning. Sleep was probably a dream at this point, but he needed to find a place to spend the interim hours. When he enquired after the nearest inn, a man pointed him onward willingly, but eyes darted. Another stared intently at him as if to say something, until his companion dug an elbow into his ribs.

He left the men behind, wondering what that one needed to share. Aven would know what happened in Farinwood.

In a broader street he discovered another gathering, more armed men huddled together. What were they guarding against?

There were no women and no children in sight anywhere. It was a bad sign; it meant women and children were confined for protection’s sake. Or something far more sinister could be in play. Inhaling a breath, Rayne hoped the women and children were merely behind locked doors to keep them safe.

He caught snatches of mutterings as he passed.

“… not normal this fog …”

“… Farinwood’s a portal to the netherworld …”

“… darkness in their hearts …”

“… Feon saw the dara-witch …”

“… Infinity on Hogshill …”

“… our poor children …”

“… An ancient curse I tell …”

“… same war of three thousand years ago …”

The words were repetitions of fact and rumour spoken almost as mantra. He sensed their need for reassurance and could not offer even a word in comfort.

When Rayne did notice a knot of children around a further corner, he was relieved to think maybe he had misjudged the situation in Farinwood.

If children were on the streets, the manipulation was still reparable. While the presence of fear was real, it had not yet killed. The young would not be allowed out if death stalked the streets. The Mantle could reverse the darak mist and dampen the manifestation of terror, thereby restoring Farinwood to the townspeople. It required concerted effort but was achievable. Aven would know where to commence the process.

Rayne paused to study the gathering of children, searching for the signs of dread evident in their elders, and was similarly scrutinised.

Across the intersection they watched each other.

Rayne began then to understand the men and their homemade weapons, their words and depression, their terrible wariness and the withdrawal from outsiders. He understood what Infinity had achieved in Farinwood.

Here it was about the children. Elsewhere on Valaris there were unexplained deaths and events, but here it was definitely about the children.

One lad curled his hands into claws and bared his teeth. He rose onto his toes as if to launch an attack. Rayne smelled the presence of aggression, the utter lack of conscience.

Appalling knowledge in deadened eyes told him the boy was not afraid to attack and kill like a rabid dog; as with infected creatures, it was thus wise to retreat.

The Mantle could not reverse this. He could do little to help them. He could do nothing. The men with their makeshift weapons guarded the streets against their own children, by Taranis.

Rayne hastily negotiated another corner, the back of his neck prickling, and ahead saw a sign that proclaimed the Foaming Ale Inn.

He felt the need to surrender the streets; never had lodgings appeared at a more opportune time.

A VESTIBULE DISPLAYED a pewter hat and coat stand and, beside it, a mirror in a chipped gilt frame. The floor was rough slate, the walls of stone. As a welcome chamber, it was not particularly inviting. The stand was empty; he was either early, the only patron, or fear kept others away. The tension on the streets spoke of the latter.

He glanced in the mirror to see clammy skin. Fair hair hung in long, damp strings, grey eyes were bloodshot, and his face was colourless, adorned with scratches from the scree slide earlier.

Rayne leaned against the contraption, closing his eyes. His heartbeat was uneven – the presence of fear. He could only imagine how much worse it was for the fathers out there and for the mothers trapped inside their homes with their thoughts.

He drew breath and headed for the common room.

The inn door slammed inward. A big man with flaming red hair and beard barged in, glanced over his shoulder, and shoved the door shut as he looked Rayne over. Shoulders the size of an ox surged closer.

Rayne’s eyes narrowed. This was not a local.

“Rayne of the Mantle?” the man boomed. “Name’s McSee. My lord, you have nothing to fear from me. You are Rayne of the Mantle?” He thrust his hand out.

Too flabbergasted to do much else, Rayne took the proffered hand. Long after he would wonder if he said no to the query would McSee have turned away not to be seen again, or were their fates already decided before that first handshake?

“I have been on your tail a few days. I just missed you in Galilan. You move fast – thirsty work. Let’s see if this dump lives up to its name!” McSee launched into the common room. “Two ales, barkeep!”

He rolled like a runaway boulder across the empty room to a table at the hearth where a fire blazed warmth and comfort.

Bemused, Rayne followed and chose a chair, nodding greeting, while McSee watched the small, rotund man busy behind the counter.

The little man winked. He had a friendly face and as he poured he asked, “Need rooms? No problem. We’re empty presently, the unseasonable climate putting the fear of who-knows-what into superstitious folk. Granted, I’ve never known weather like this, not in summer.”

He came over with two foaming mugs.

There were changeling children on the streets, and the man called it superstition. Rayne frowned into his mug as he lifted it to swirl the dust of travel away.

McSee handed over the required coin. “Yes, rooms and hot water. I could sorely use a scrubbing.”

The little man grimaced. “It’s all I can do to keep this fire going, my staff left me in the lurch – I told them it’s fairy tales and legends, but no one listens. We’re in for a poorly spell, you know, nature telling us who’s in charge. Mist from a netherworld, ha! Superstitious nonsense. Name’s Julian, by the way.”

He gazed pointedly at McSee, and glanced at Rayne, dark eyes inquisitive, and one could not blame him; he was in the business of people, and visitors were scarce.

McSee made the introductions. “McSee,” he said, thrusting his hand out again. Rayne winced, having recently shaken it. “From Gasmoor. And this here,” McSee continued, “is Rayne of …” Rayne faintly shook his head. “… ah, Rayne of Galilan.”

Julian enfolded Rayne’s hand in a firm grip. “He’s rather quiet, your friend Rayne.”

“Tired, Julian, more tired than I have been in a long while,” Rayne answered.

“Apologies, sirs! Hot water … yes, and something to eat … excuse me …” Managing to curb his curiosity, Julian left.

“Did you see them? The young ones?” McSee murmured, pointing a finger to the outside world. “Is he blind?” He gestured next after the round man. “Scared the crap out of me, I tell you.”

“He is afraid. Denial is a form of defence.” Rayne settled back and took a pull of the ale. The brew definitely lived up to the name above the door. He glanced at the big man. “McSee. From Gasmoor.” Gasmoor was the second largest centre on Valaris, a university city two days ride from Galilan, capital city. “That is a start. McSee, you seem to know a little more about me than I know of you.”

McSee did not drop his gaze. “I mean you no harm, my lord.”

“That remains to be seen. At this point answer my question.”

McSee set his mug down and settled his big arms on the polished wood, twisting his fingers together. “I was chosen to find you, for we have noticed the same distressing signs the Mantle has …”

“’We’?”

“A society, my lord …”

“Do not call me that, for Aaru’s sake; I don’t want unnecessary attention. Rayne will do fine.”

“Of course, I’m sorry, my … Rayne.” McSee scratched at his head.

“A society,” Rayne prompted.

Brown eyes were sombre, expecting trouble. “A society of folk who think there is great danger a-foot. We also believe what we see is a fraction of what is coming. Allow me to offer my help. If nothing else, I find my size in odd situations is an advantage.”

There was a trace of diffidence in McSee’s voice, but as his claim could not be named as lie, he did not back down from it.

“You are not answering my question, friend. How is it you know of me? Perhaps twenty outsiders know of the existence of the Mantle.”

“The Society knows as well,” McSee murmured, lowering his voice on hearing Julian’s scuffles in an adjoining chamber. The way he accented Society revealed it as more than a generic term. “We know the Mantle is an organization studying signs and portents. You are the protectors, right?”

In a manner of speaking, Rayne thought, but did not answer. “And what exactly does this Society of yours do?”

For the first time the big man was uncomfortable. “They said this will be the hardest part, and now I see why.” He lapsed into silence.

Rayne took a deep breath and released it on a long sigh. “Something like the Mantle?”

McSee nodded. “Our goals are similar, but we are more than mere academics …”

And so is the Mantle. “I get that,” Rayne said.

Something in Rayne’s tone alerted the big man, for he spoke swiftly then. “I’m instructed to tell the truth, so here it is; the Society is a select group of … of sorcerers … no, wait,” McSee interjected as Rayne straightened in his chair, “It’s not what you think! We don’t do darak magic, I swear; we don’t practice magic at all, only theory.”

Rayne lifted a disbelieving eyebrow and thought that meant they were only academics.

“It’s true,” McSee continued. “We train generation to generation in an attempt to keep the old knowledge alive. Long ago, someone understood we would need the theoretical arts. Folk forgot about the Society as time passed, especially after the Drasso catastrophe, but we were there then and saw what real danger is. We weren’t formal like now, maybe not so hidden, and probably not quite as unpractised as today, but that was then and I don’t know much about the past and only about the future we seek to protect. The way matters add up, we need countering that can reach beyond traditional weapons. We’re not a danger to the Mantle or Valaris, quite the contrary, and if you need to keep me nearby to prove that, then so be it; I’ll earn your trust soon enough.”

McSee leaned in. “You are of the Mantle, my lord …” and he used Rayne’s title deliberately, “… so you must know Valaris can’t hope to survive the coming darkness without trained sorcerers. Who will help us if we do not help ourselves? I can sniff danger and fight it too. I would be honoured to stand at your side.”

Rayne was a power in an underworld of influential men and McSee clearly knew that. Did the man aim to aid him with the different power of the Society? What, exactly, could McSee do? Moreover, how much did he know of the Mantle?

In the ensuing silence, they heard Julian throwing water. The innkeeper would return soon.

When Rayne finally spoke, his voice remained low. The men with weapons outside needed just a spark, a whiff of a whisper of a sorcerer inside, and all Julian had to do was shout.

“You are telling me there is a group the Mantle doesn’t know of and you say this group has been in existence a long time. There are trained sorcerers running amok on this world. By Taranis, man, how do you expect me to react?”

McSee put up a hand. “Three thousand years ago Valaris was the battlefield for Infinity and Drasso and their darak fallen, and the Deities descended to aid us in that war. Today we don’t know how much is fact or fairy-tale, but we do know there was a war and our world was almost destroyed. A handful survived, the north was forever annihilated, and it took Valaris a thousand years to recover. We still have the poison of the north, which the Great Dividing Forest separates us from. And now someone like Drasso could be happening again.”

Rayne gave a wry smile. The big man was on target. Infinity had returned to exact revenge for the death of her son Drasso. He blinked; no wonder she manipulated the children. It was a mother’s vengeance.

“Will the Deities come to our aid? Dare we wait for that to happen? Do we allow it to get so bad it takes another thousand years to recover?” McSee leaned forward. “Better if we join forces …” He broke off as Julian re-entered the common room.

“Good news, gentlemen. Two tubs in the steam room out back. Fresh towels inside the door.” Julian’s bright eyes darted from one to the other, sensing enmity.

Rayne pushed his chair back. “We will resume this later, McSee. Lead on, Julian.”

McSee followed.

His hands shook.

A SCREECH TORE through the darkness. Rayne surged up in his bed as the reverberations shivered over his skin. The echoes of his dream – a fair girl crying out her name, “Mitrill, my name is Mitrill” – caused momentary confusion, and then he knew where and when he was.

It was night in Farinwood. This was a bed in an inn. The present. He had actually fallen asleep.

Here it was about a child on the hunt.

Then, like crystal shattering in the ensuing silence, a woman sobbed as if her heart had been ripped from her body.

Aaru, how could the men on the streets be expected to stop this? One was father to that screeching child. One was husband to the woman trapped in hopeless grief.

Anger was then heat and resolve. Rayne left his bed, snatched his cloak up for warmth and doused the smoking lamp on the table under the window.

A moment later he snapped his fingers for the tiny flame that danced upon his palm.

This was a sorcerer’s trick and, on a world that abhorred magic, it meant also a noose slung over a branch if someone saw him with it. He needed to be ever careful; vigilantism thrived on Valaris and continually prowled for magic-users, a mind-set that would lead eventually to confrontation.

He cupped his free hand around the flame.

Enfolding magic, even this insignificant nuance, gifted him the ability to witness events beyond his immediate surroundings.

He employed the flame to see what the darkness hid.

Leaves skittered across cobbles, driven by gusts of contrary wind. A storm was on the way. The leaves lifted and swirled and smacked into the calves of two boys, slim shadows peering through a tall iron gate at a man holding aloft a blacksmith’s hammer. There was a sense of hunger emanating from the boys and terrible despair had etched into the man’s face.

Would the gate keep them apart?

Rayne’s breathing shallowed when those shadows swiftly clambered over and padded closer.

The man swung the hammer, but it was evident he was loath to use it even for defence. How did a man sleep again after hurting children? Then they were upon him and Rayne’s breathing stopped. The mallet thudded down; leaves scurried and rustled as if prodded and young fingers and mouths tore into cloth and flesh.

A horrifying gurgle echoed. Insane giggles. Rayne lost his hold on the flame as shock numbed his ability to function.

Sweat trickled in icy rivulets over his face.

Hands on knees he fought for equilibrium and feverishly hoped Aven would know how to counter this nightmare.

He prayed the old man was still alive in this netherworld town.

THE INFINITY MANTLE

Chapter 1: Song of the Spaces

Read Song of the Spaces as either a teaser … or because you’re a huge fan and simply must know more about the LORE Series. Every great story has hidden depths. Discover in this OMNIBUS EDITION the insights and the fantastical woven from the Lore of Arcana/Reaume/Sanctum Series. From natural rainbows to portals into other realms, from worlds off the track to giant planets swerving in space, these are the extras compiled into one volume:

The Rainbows of Pilan

The Life-Wheels of Pendulim

The History of Ardosia

The Arcana Myth

A World without Light

The Wolves of Valaris

The Tower of Stairs

The Glittering Darkness

The Beyond for Vannis

Flatland

Ancient Luvanor

Avior’s Doors

Song of the Spaces

Into the Forbidden Zone

The Rainbows of PILAN

FOREWORD

IN THE INTEREST of telling a story without too much distraction, this interlude on the Pilan Homeworld still exists in The Dragon Circle (Lore of Arcana 4) but has been edited to give only the bare bones there. It wasn’t integral to the main tale, but you may wish to know a bit more … and here it is.

A wee bit of scene setting …

TORRULLIN VALLA of the Valleur has been a bad boy. Having committed and spoken words of love to Saska of the Sylmer, he then breaks her trust when he sleeps with Lycea, the Changeling. That union results in Lycea’s pregnancy.

The fall-out sees Torrullin vanish offworld for a while on a mission. When he returns to Valaris, Saska witnesses him with Lycea, kneeling in the snow to greet his son in her womb (the Valleur recognition of the unborn) and, believing she has lost him, without hope, Saska leaves in turn.

As the final confrontation with Margus, the Darak Or, approaches, given The Dragon Circle is the final Lore of Arcana volume, her absence is marked, and her life may be in danger. The Darak Or, after all, seeks leverage to employ with effect against Torrullin.

Torrullin thus sets out to find Saska …

SOMETIMES ONE NEEDS to disappear. Saska’s psyche needs soothing, her soul requires difference and her heart desperately seeks distraction. Betrayal forces her into leaving. Amid the rainbows of Pilan she hopes for peace … but, on the eighth day, he comes …

1

THE UNIVERSE WAS vast, an infinite eternity. Logic dictated that in such vastness many worlds could sustain life, sentient or otherwise, for the precedent already existed.

And, indeed, so it is and was. Some knew they were not alone in the greatness and used magic or star-travel to traverse it, while others understood it intellectually, and some, such as Valaris, although isolated, knew their ancestors were from elsewhere. And yet others came to know the state from varied visitors to their worlds.

Then there were those who did in fact believe they were utterly alone in the universe. They simply could not comprehend the vastness, or they were unwilling to believe the coldness of immensity was able to duplicate their uniqueness. Some of those suffered from superiority disease – arrogance – while others were the true innocents of the universe.

The latter belief was held by the people of Pilan.

They did believe themselves alone, and perhaps they could be forgiven their mistaken views, for they were isolated in a tiny solar system in the very corner of a far-flung galaxy, and the periodic visitors they had received over eons of existence had been too few to alter that belief. In fact, the visitors were regarded as the embodiments of their gods and goddesses.

Thus it was for Saska of the Sylmer; a visitor from outer space seen as a goddess, her lithe female form, and long tresses of blue hair and bright emerald eyes, exactly matching the description of Leath, Goddess of Water.

This was her third visit to Pilan; a place chosen because of its isolation. Her psyche required soothing, her soul needed difference and her heart, well, her heart desperately sought distraction.

The previous occasion had been a hundred and fifty years ago and, therefore, in living memory, not one Pilanese would have seen her before, which was why she felt able to visit without upsetting their integrated belief system. The tale of the blue-haired woman who had walked with ordinary folk, of course, continued to be told and sang; no one remembered, but they had not forgotten either.

SONG OF THE SPACES