Kindle Scout campaign for CITIZEN MAGUS

citizen_magus_final_20150920_1000hI’m really excited to announce a Kindle Scout campaign for my new novel, CITIZEN MAGUS.

The campaign works like this: Readers can nominate my book for a publishing deal with Kindle Press. If Kindle Press picks up my book, your nomination will earn you a free copy once they publish it. The more nominations I get, the better my chances for a deal and a free ebook for you.

Nominating is easy, quick, and a great way to support new authors (check out the other campaigns on the Scout site, too). Please see my campaign page for more details and an excerpt from the book.

Thanks in advance for your support!

From the book description:

Remington Blakes, a magus from a 21st century where magic powers the world, has a big problem. His former mentor, William Ford, stranded him in ancient Rome without a memory as to how or why. Well a guy has to eat, so he’s forced to eke out a living as a magus-for-hire among Rome’s plebeians. But when Ford conjures daemons to kidnap a senator’s young daughter, Remi tracks him to the Germanic frontier to not only rescue the child, but learn the terrible secret behind why he left Remi in Rome.

ZERVAKAN – Published!

It’s been a long time coming, but my latest fantasy novel, ZERVAKAN, is now published.  It’s a story about faith versus science: Are they mutually exclusive, or two sides of the same coin?

Here’s the summary:

Reason and science gave the Recindian Compact wonders like steam engines, telegraphs, and gunpowder. The world had order. It made sense.

Until one night two multi-colored bands of light split the sky, spanning the horizons like rings around the planet. Soon after, unnatural storms assaulted the Compact’s cities. Whispers spread of ghoulish creatures haunting Compact forests. And then a message from a legendary race called the Mystics – “ally with us to fight the growing evil, or we all perish.”

The Compact’s desperate leaders turn to disgraced history professor Taran Abraeu. Taran spent years searching in vain for the ancient healing magic of the Mystics to save his dying daughter. His family and colleagues once mocked him. Now his research might save them.

When the Compact asks Taran to accompany a secret delegation to the Mystic homeland, he is swept up in an adventure that forces him to fight a horrifying enemy that only he among all his people can comprehend.

ZERVAKAN is available in print and eBook ($1.99 eBooks for a limited time!).

Paperback | Kindle | Nook | Apple iBooks | Smashwords

Want a free eBook? Go to Smashwords.com, enter the coupon code FV93C, and then download your preferred format. All I ask in return is an honest review on Amazon. Reviews are gold to authors, and even just a few lines helps.

Prefer print? How about a coupon for $6 off the price of the print version? Go to CreateSpace.com and enter the coupon code PCW5M8Y3 upon purchase. Same deal as with the free eBook — just write an honest review on Amazon.

Hope you all enjoy the book.

ZERVAKAN – Chapters 49 and 50 – FINAL CHAPTERS

So here we go with the final two chapters in my fantasy novel ZERVAKAN. I can’t begin to convey my appreciation for all the comments you sent me and typos you fixed. Thank you, thank you!

My goal is to publish the book sometime in January 2013. The chapters will remain here until then, but once I publish the book, I will remove all of the chapters from this site. So if you haven’t read them all yet, get cracking while they’re still free.

And feel free to keep sending me comments and/or typos while the chapters are still up. Those who spot a typo will get their names in the book’s acknowledgements. 🙂

So once again, thank you all for your support and suggestions. This will be a much better book because of you.

 

 

ZERVAKAN

by Rob Steiner

 

Chapter 49

Taran stood across the street from his townhouse on University Avenue, beneath the canopy of the café two blocks down.  It was a black night made even blacker by the drenching rain that had been pouring all day and most of yesterday.  Science Ministry experts assured today’s newspapers that this weather pattern was normal and not like the devastating tornado of four months ago.

Taran knew they were right.

The steam trolley chugged up the hill from Taran’s left, and then stopped a block down from the townhouse.  He saw that a pro-Edoss poster had been hastily glued to the door near the back of the trolley:  “Free Dylan Edoss!” it proclaimed in large black letters on a white background.

Taran had read in Edellian newspapers that Edoss had been arrested on treason and heresy charges as soon as his ship from Turicia had docked in Levaken.  It was a heavy-handed move for Adella Kiricia that seemed to be backfiring.  While most Compact citizens—with the exception of the Orlenians—supported Edoss’s removal from office, ordering Edoss arrested and held without trial for simply traveling to the Beldamark had most people scratching their heads.  For if Edoss had been on a heretical fool’s errand, according to Kiricia, then why was she so desperate to stop him from telling his story?  It made some curious enough to read Edoss’s smuggled—and illegal—writings from his cell in Granthahm Prison in Calaman.

Now a small but vocal group was gluing posters all over the city, and had even started publishing a newspaper on Kiricia’s anti-Constitutional arrests of Edoss’s supporters, along with Edoss’s descriptions of the Tuathans.  Taran had read several issues of the newspaper but saw nothing regarding the current location of the Tuathans.  All Edoss said was that they were safe and “girding themselves for the coming war with Angra’s servants.”

Gas lamps illuminated the interior of the trolley, showing it empty but for two men with sooty faces and a single woman.  When the trolley stopped, the woman exited with a brief smile for the trolley driver.  Once she stepped off, the trolley steamed up the hill, passing Taran with a warm, wet breeze and the harsh sent of coal.

Taran watched Adhera walk wearily up the sidewalk to the house, her black umbrella held above her head.  She entered the house, and then a few minutes later, the nurse who had been watching Mara left, opening her own umbrella and walking back the way Adhera had just come.

Taran jogged across the street, ignoring the soaking rain, and took the steps to his porch two at a time.  He was about to open the door, but paused.  It’s been three months, he thought.  Will she even let me in?

He knocked.  A minute went by.  Then the circular greeting hole in the center of the door opened, and Taran could see Adhera’s eyes through the metal bars.

“Hello, Adhera,” he said.

She stared at him for several moments, the expression around her eyes unchanging.

“Can I come in please?  The weather is—”

The greeting hole slammed shut.  Taran was about to knock again when he heard the bolts on the door pulled back.  Adhera opened the door, and then walked away into the living room without a word.  Taran entered, removed his jacket and hung it on the coat pegs next to the door.  He walked into the small living room where Adhera sat in the rocking chair she had used to nurse Mara after her birth.  Her arms were folded, and she stared at the smoldering embers in the iron wood burner in the corner.  Taran sat down on the couch across from her.  The living room was so small that their knees were less than a pace apart.

“You’re working two jobs?” he asked.

Without looking at him, she said, “Three, actually.  My Pathist Teacher credentials have been revoked.  The only work I can find is house cleaning or grocery clerkships.  Nurses aren’t free, you know.”

Taran sighed.  “I know this is a feeble thing to say after what I’ve put you through, but I’m sorry, Adhera.  I’m so sorry.”

She finally looked at him, her eyes glistening.  “Sorry?  You’re right.  It is feeble.  They told me you were dead.  Never told me how, or where, just that you died a ‘hero.’  Some comfort.  It crushed me, Taran.  I thought all my love for you had died when you refused Mara the Mercy, but I guess it hadn’t.”

She shook her head.  “And then you send me that wiretype two months ago saying you’re alive, saying that you would be home in another week.”

“I know.  I was…delayed,” he said.

After he had sent Adhera the wiretype, he had gone to the Sydear train station to book passage to Calaman.  Before he reached the ticket counter, he saw one of the clerks putting up a poster with his face on it on a bulletin board behind the counter.  The poster said he was a “known associate” of the “revolutionary” Dylan Edoss, and the Compact was offering an unprecedented 100,000 han for information leading to his capture.  He ducked out of the office.  He had tried getting onto wagon trains, but found his face staring back at him at their ticket offices.  He was forced to walk back to Calaman, hitching rides on private wagons that were traveling south.  To avoid Edellian authorities—and Angra harrowers—he had stuck to roads that paralleled the Trans-Recindian Railroad, then turned east at the Perla Mountains, crossing the Komenda Steppes and entering the Compact through the Burrick Pass.  He had not seen any sign that Angra harrowers had visited the towns through which he passed.

“I tried to get here as fast as I could,” he said.  “And what I said in the wiretype is true.  I know how to cure Mara.”

“Mara is receiving the Mercy next week,” she said, as if it were a simple treatment for a stomachache.  “You are officially dead, so I have sole authority to request it.”

“Adhera,” Taran said, leaning forward.  “I can heal Mara.  Please let me see her.”

Adhera shook her head, and then laughed mirthlessly.  “Even now you won’t give up your fantasies.  I can’t live on wishes, Taran.  Nor can Mara.”

“Then let me see her so I can prove it to you.  At least let me see my daughter one last time before you send her to the Pathists.”

Adhera stared at him, and then sighed.  “She’s finally sleeping, so be quiet.”

They walked up the stairs together and stopped at Mara’s room.  The door was slightly ajar.  Upon entering the room, the familiar smells of vomit and stale urine assaulted him.  Mara lay on her back, dressed in her usual white sleeping gown.  She had pushed her blankets to the end of the bed, likely during one of her episodic convulsions.  Adhera went in and pulled the covers up so that they covered Mara’s thin frame, and then tucked them gently beneath her chin.  Mara stirred a bit, turning her sleeping face toward Taran.  A thin line of pink drool streamed from her mouth, and Adhera wiped it with a clean handkerchief.  Taran had to hold back a sob when he saw how gaunt and pale Mara’s face had become in the four months he had been away.

Once Adhera had placed the blankets, Taran sat down softly next to Mara.  “Oh, my sweet girl,” he said.

Without raising his hand, Taran reached for Angra.  The chaotic power filled him instantly, and he sighed with pleasure.  It had been months since he had Wielded Angra or Ahura.  Angra’s surging currents raged in him, almost making him forget what he wanted to do.  He put his hand on Mara’s chest and searched her body for the organisms that were killing her.  They were buried deep in her blood, her muscles, her bones, and her brain, so he had to delve further than he had ever gone with the harrower back in the Beldamark.

Mara’s chest heaved.  Her eyes sprung open and her back arched.  He was aware of Adhera yelling at him, telling him to stop what he was doing, but he screamed something back to her, not knowing what it was, only caring that it made her leave him alone.  Mara thrashed about in the bed, grunting and moaning, her eyes rolling into her head, but Taran went deeper still.

There.

He found the Blood feasting on her spinal chord and its connections to her brain.  Now that he had them, he willed them all to die.  They screamed at him most pleasingly before withering away to nothing.  Their destruction seemed to fill him with more power and a sense of satisfied vengeance.

Now kill the rest of them, the dark voice said, speaking for the first time in months.  Start with the girl, and the power you feel now will be like a breeze to a tornado.

Taran shut his eyes tight.  “Ah…”

Do it! the voice screamed.

“Daddy?”

Taran opened his eyes and let go of Angra.  Mara looked up at him.  Her eyes were clear and focused.  For the first time in six years, they were clear and focused.

Oh, Mercy, please let it be true…

“Daddy,” she said again, “why do you look so old?”

Taran felt a smile spread across his face, then a laugh, and then hot tears streamed from his eyes as he hugged Mara so tight that he had to let her go when she gasped.

“Mara…?” Adhera said from behind Taran.

Taran released Mara and turned to Adhera.  She gave him a questioning look.  He nodded.  “It’s gone.  The Blood is gone.”

A choking sob escaped her throat.  She sat on the other side of the bed from Taran and hugged Mara tight.

“What’s wrong, momma?”

Adhera laughed, and said, “Nothing.  I’m so happy.  I’m so happy…”

When Adhera pulled back, Mara wrinkled her nose, and then asked, “Why does it smell so bad in here?”

Taran said, “You’ve been sick a long time.  Do you remember any of it?”

Mara was thoughtful for a moment.  “I had a really bad headache after we had iced cream…and that’s it, until waking up right now.”

Adhera said, “You can sleep in my room until we clean out your bed tomorrow.”

Then Adhera looked at Taran.  “What…what did you do?”

Taran sighed.  “It’s a really long story.”

She stared at him for a while longer, and then her eyes widened.  “You have to leave.”

Taran nodded.  “I know.  I can’t stay in the Compact too long—”

“No, I mean you have to leave right now!  I…I wiretyped the constables when I saw you at the door.  They’ll be here any minute.”

Taran jumped up, went to Mara’s window, and parted the drapes a sliver.  He scanned the dark street to the left and the right.  He saw no one—

Wait.  In the dark shadows of the grocer’s shop across the street and three doors down, Taran saw the faint outline of a man.  Then he saw two constables round the corner and stride toward the house.  Both nodded to the man in the shadows.

“I’m so sorry, Taran,” Adhera said.  “They told me to contact them if you ever came home.  If I had known you could really do…do what you did, I never would have wiretyped them.  How could I have known?”

Taran turned to her.  “It’s all right.  You didn’t know.”

He went over to Mara, who was trying to get up, but her muscles were so weak from almost six years of lying in bed that she shook with the effort.  Taran gently pushed her back down to the bed, and then hugged her again.

“I have to leave for a while,” he said.  “But no matter where I go or how long I’m gone, know that I love you more than anything in this world.  Do you believe me?”

Mara nodded her head as tears began to glisten in her eyes.  “Why are you leaving?”

“Momma will explain it to you, but I have to go now.”  He stood, backed away to the door so that he could look on his daughter for as long as possible.

Mara raised her hand in a feeble wave.  “Goodbye, daddy.”

“Goodbye, Mara.”

Adhera followed Taran as he raced down the stairs.  When he was halfway down, he stopped when he heard knocking at the front door.

“The alley?” Adhera asked.

“They’ll have that covered, too.”

He looked at Adhera, said, “I’m going to do something that will seem…unbelievable.  Promise me you won’t panic.”

She gave him an irritated look.  “After what you just did, you think there’s anything you can do now that would surprise me?”

Taran grinned.  “I never stopped loving you, Adhera.”

Her eyes brimmed with tears.  “There are so many things…”

The knocking came again, louder this time.

Taran said, “I’ll contact you when I can.”

Without raising his hand he reached for Ahura.  The joy and peace that flowed through him was a calm river on which he could relax and let his fear float away.  He searched for the right combination of Air and Spirit to create the illusion around him.  When he found the Aspects, he molded them together and draped them over his body.

Adhera gasped.  “Taran?”

The illusion stifled his voice as well, so he could not answer her.  In response, though, he continued down the stairs, hoping the creaking steps would let her know where he was.

It worked.  She followed him down the stairs, and then went to the door, where the constables knocked a third time.  Opening the door, she said, “Thank you for coming, constables, but I’m afraid he left already.”

Taran stood in a corner of the room, watching the constables over Adhera’s shoulder.  The gas lamps on the street illuminated their faces enough that he could see them give each other doubtful glances.  One of them said, “Whose wet rain coat is that on the peg behind you?”

“My husband’s,” Adhera said without hesitation.  “I used it tonight.  It’s much roomier than my old coat.”  She took a step back and said, “You’re welcome to search the house, if you’d like.”

They looked at each other again, and the first one said, “Thank you, ma’am, we would.”

They both entered, wiping their feet as best they could on the floor mat, then split up, one heading for the stairs and the other heading toward the kitchen and Taran’s old office.

“Be sure not to disturb my daughter,” Adhera whispered after the constable heading to the stairs.  She continued to hold the door open despite the damp, chilly air rolling in.  Taran took the hint and stepped quietly out the door and into the rain.

As Adhera shut the door, she whispered, “I love you, too.”

The door shut with a click, and Taran heard her muffled voice talking to the constables.

Taran glanced up and down the street.  The man in the shadows of the grocer’s entry was still there, so he walked in the opposite direction.  He maintained his hold on Ahura until he had rounded several corners and was over a mile from his house.  He paused at an empty trolley stop shelter and waited there until a trolley chugged up the hill from the east.

Just as he remembered, releasing Ahura was like falling through the ice and into a cold, hard world.  But this time, the worry and fear that had once greeted him was gone.  It was the same worry and fear that had plagued him for the past six years.

Mara is going to live.

The trolley stopped in front of the shelter, and Taran stepped on.  Neither the trolley driver nor the two other passengers gave him a second glance, though Taran was without a coat and soaked to the skin from the rain.  He sat down in the back of the trolley and smiled at his reflection in the glass.

Mara is going to live.

He knew he had to leave the Compact, that he would most likely flee to the Wild Kingdoms to get away from the Compact’s long reach.  He had no idea what he would do then, nor how long he would run.

But none of that mattered now.

Mara is going to live.

For the first time in six years, Taran Abraeu was happy.

 

Chapter 50

“Karak.”

Karak Frost opened his eyes and focused on Savix’s smiling face.

“Welcome back, my Zervakan harrower.”

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 48

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

ZERVAKAN

by Rob Steiner

 

Chapter 48

“Now try what I just showed you on my harrower,” Ladak said, pointing to the blank-faced Tuathan beside him.

Taran retained control of the Angra tendril, and placed his left hand on the heart of the gray-faced harrower.  He felt the raging torrent of Angra consume his body, mind, and heart, but through the exhilaration, he maintained his focus.

“The human body,” Ladak said from beside Taran, “is infested with bacteria.  With Angra’s help, we can find them and destroy them.”

He used the Aspects of Earth and Spirit to search for the organisms Ladak described, bacteria that maintained life and distributed death.  His search through the harrower’s body was like sticking his hands into a decomposing corpse—it left Taran nauseous, but he continued the search.  Where were they…?

There.  The harrower’s Tainted body still retained enough of its former biology to sustain the bacteria it once held in life.  Taran narrowed his focus on the bacteria in the harrower’s small intestines, and then…strangled them.  He felt as if he were using his own hands to kill each one of the millions of bacteria swarming about in the harrower’s gut.  When he could find no more, Taran opened his eyes and reluctantly released Angra.

Ladak looked at Taran.  “Even killing something as small as bacteria makes one feel like a god, yes?”

Mercy help me, it does, Taran thought.  But he did not have to say anything for Ladak to give him a knowing smile.  “Perhaps you will become one of us after all.”  Ladak turned his head slightly.  “And it looks like you will have a chance to prove it right now.”

His right hand shot into the air and, simultaneously, his left hand pointed to the woods next to the road.  Angra struck Ladak’s hand as fast as lightning, and Fatimah was pulled out of the woods, landing with a hard thump at Taran’s feet.

Ladak bent to one knee and lifted Fatimah’s chin with his fingers.  Her eyes held defiance, but her chin quivered.

“I could smell you from a hundred paces,” Ladak said.

Ladak turned to Taran.  “Now prove you are a man of your word and kill your first Tuathan.”

Taran stared down at Fatimah.  Yes, the voice said, kill her, and then kill them all.

“Taran,” Fatimah said.  “You are not one of them.”

She tried to stand, but Ladak forced her down to her knees again.

“Is she right, Taran?” Ladak snarled.  “Kill her now, or my harrowers will.  After they kill you.”

All three harrowers raised their hands, black tendrils of Angra connecting to each one.  Ladak also held an Angra tendril.

Kill her, the voice screamed in his mind.  Then kill them all!

Taran looked down at Fatimah, the dark voice irresistible.  He began to raise his hand—

A crack sounded from behind him, and the top of a harrower’s head exploded.  The harrower staggered backward, but he righted himself again.  Everything above his forehead was a mass of gray, glistening meat.  More firing erupted from the huts near the road, and from the trees near the huts.  Taran saw Shadarlak hiding behind trees and in the windows of huts, firing at the harrowers, hitting most of them but doing very little to knock them down.

Taran heard Ladak grunt.  He turned and saw Ladak’s black coat disappear into the woods on the left.  Without thinking, Taran ran past the harrowers—who were walking towards the firing Shadarlak, ready to call down lightning from the black clouds gathering above—and plunged into the woods after the Fomorian.

 

When the firing started—which seemed like an eternity after she had been pulled from the forest—Fatimah dropped to her belly and put her hands over her head, praying to Ahura that the Shadarlak aim was as good as they promised it would be.  The harrowers were concentrating on the concealed Shadarlak, and walked right past her.  Maybe they thought she was dead.  She did not know or care, just as long as they left her alone.

She glanced about and saw Taran disappear into the forest.  Ladak was gone, so Fatimah assumed Taran was chasing the Fomorian.

Or fleeing with Ladak?

She leaped to her feet and ran to where Taran had entered the woods.  As she passed the tree line, she heard the first explosions of lightning strike the Shadarlak positions.  Pine branches and thorny bushes scratched her face and clothes, but she gave another silent prayer that the Recindians would not pay too dearly for helping her retrieve Taran.

 

Taran raced through the woods, spotting Ladak’s black coat, then losing it for a time.  He’d hear rustling over the lightning strikes behind him to see Ladak dart out of sight again.  Taran kept on him, listening for Ladak’s footsteps over his own pounding heart and haggard breathing.  Taran lost the sound of Ladak’s flight, but then picked up a fresh trail of blood in the dead branches and needles on the forest floor.

Find him and destroy him, the dark, mad voice whispered in his mind, or he will find and destroy you.  And then go back and slaughter the Tuathans.

The forest ended abruptly before a clearing of saw grass covered sand dunes.  Footprints in the sand led up and over one of the dunes.  Fearing a trap, Taran stopped, and then made his way around the dune, along the edge of the forest clearing.  When he rounded the dune, he saw Ladak laying on his back, the top of his head pointing down the hill as if he had fallen and slid on his back all the way down the dune.  Taran saw a large stain of blood covering Ladak’s entire chest on the white shirt beneath his black coat.  Ladak’s face and lips were as gray as one of his harrowers.  He turned his head slightly and smiled when he saw Taran.

“All these gifts from Angra and I can’t even stop a bullet,” Ladak said.  He started laughing, then coughed up a gout of blood.

Taran walked slowly to Ladak.  Dark blood was caking the sand around Ladak’s back.

“Wouldn’t mind giving a bit of that Ahura healing, would you?” Ladak rasped, and then laughed again, which sounded more like a wet gurgle.

Taran picked up a piece of heavy driftwood next to his feet.  He looked at it a moment, wondering how it had ended up so far from the seashore.  He swung it high above his head with both hands as if he were about to chop a piece of wood, and brought it down on Ladak’s head.

The point of the driftwood hit nothing but empty sand.  Ladak’s body had disappeared.

Taran did not have time to look around before the bolt of lightning struck the ground several feet from him.  He did not hear the bolt, nor did he feel its electricity, but he felt his body flying through the air.  He landed silently in a pile of dead seaweed.  He stared up at the sky, all blue except for the small black, roiling cloud above him.  The sun was higher in the east now, shining into Taran’s eyes if he looked through a break in the woods a mile away.  Beyond that break, he saw the blue waters of the Gulf of Pagilah.

Ladak stepped in front of the sun, his tri-corner hat blocking it.  Taran noticed that the sleeve of his left arm was stained with blood, slick and glistening.

Though Taran’s hearing was beginning to return, he could not make out Ladak’s muffled words.  He did understand, however, Ladak’s actions.  He raised his right hand to Angra, and a black tendril snaked down and connected with Ladak.  He bent down and put his hand over Taran’s heart.  Taran knew what was going to happen.

You were too slow, the dark voice said.  You are now his slave.

Unable to do more than groan, Taran closed his eyes and pictured Mara’s smiling face in his mind, the kind of smile she used to give him before the Blood struck.  At least his last free thought would be of his daughter.

Ladak’s hand abruptly lifted away from Taran’s heart.  Taran opened his eyes to see Ladak staring at his hands and body with a horrified expression.  A blue, glittering shield surrounded him.  He raised his right hand to Angra again, but no black tendril appeared.  Ladak cried out in frustration, and then his gaze stopped on the top of the sand dune.

Fatimah stood at the top, her hand raised to Ahura and a beautiful, multi-colored tendril caressing her body.  She had cast a barrier around Ladak, and he was now powerless.

But no less murderous.  Ladak picked up the driftwood Taran had used to dispel Ladak’s illusion, and scrambled up the sand dune toward Fatimah with a feral shriek.  Seeing the danger, she released Ahura and ran back down the other side.

Taran found the strength to turn over and make himself stand.  On shaky feet, he raised his right hand to Angra and felt the chaotic power fill him.  As he remembered Ladak doing, he Wielded Air and Spirit to form a hand around Ladak’s torso, and then dragged the Fomorian back down the dune.  Cursing and screaming at Taran, Ladak tried to stand, but Taran Wielded Ladak’s arms to his sides and his ankles together.

Still holding on to Angra, Taran stooped down to both knees in front of Ladak and snarled, “Now you’re my slave.”

Ladak’s terrified eyes bulged satisfactorily.

Yes, the dark voice said, use him!  He will make a powerful harrower for you.

Remembering the Wield Ladak was about to use on Taran, he put his left hand on Ladak’s heart—

Gunfire filled the air, and several holes appeared in Ladak’s chest.  Ladak grunted, and then a third shot shattered his skull, spraying blood into Taran’s face.  Startled, Taran fell onto his back, losing his grip on Angra.

When he looked up again, Fatimah was striding down the sand dune with a smoking revolver in her hand.  Then she aimed the gun at Taran.

“Do I have to kill you, too?” Fatimah said in a shaky voice, her eyes welling with tears.

Taran sat motionless, propped up on his elbows, staring at the surprising figure of Fatimah.  She held the revolver in both hands pointed at his chest, her stance wide like a trained soldier.  She must have studied the Shadarlak well.

“I saw what you were about to do,” she said, stopping five paces from him.  “I had to kill him.  Or you would have made him a harrower.  And for the sake of my people and the sake of your soul, I could not let you do it.”

Taran closed his eyes and lay on his back.  I’m every bit the monster Ladak was, Taran thought with despair.

Yes, the voice said.  So take that gun from her and shoot her with it.  Then wipe out the whole lot of them on the beach.  They would do it to you…

Taran put his hands on his head.  “Stop…”

Fatimah thought he was talking to her, because she said, “I will not.  You told me just a few days ago that our choices and actions are what define us, not the stations we were born into.  You are a Zervakan, and that means you can Wield Angra.  But that also means you can choose not to.”

Oh, Fatimah, Taran thought, you have too much faith in me.

He opened his eyes and stared at her.  Without raising his hand, he called on Angra, and a flash of the black power surrounded him in an instant.  Before Fatimah could fire, he blocked the blood flow into her brain, causing her to pass out.  She fell to the sand in a heap, the gun falling from her hands.

Taran stood and walked over to her.  He turned her over so that her face was not in the sand, and then gently picked her up.  He trudged up the dune, and then placed her in the sand at the top, in plain view of anyone coming from the forest or from the beach path to his right.  Someone would come soon—if they were not attracted by the gun shots, then they would surely notice the Angra and Ahura trails that had been Wielded here.  He removed some hair from her sleeping face.

“Good-bye,” he said.  When he heard movement in the woods, he ran into the trees in the opposite direction.

 

“Sir,” Captain Laesh shouted to Dylan, “over here!”

Without the long legs of the Shadarlak, Dylan’s jog through the forest was more of a sprint just to keep up with his men.  At least the low hanging branches were not as much of a problem for him as they were for the Shadarlak.  Trade-offs, he thought.

When he reached the sandy clearing, he saw Laesh bent over Fatimah on top of a steep sand dune.  Four Shadarlak stood around him, their eyes scanning the forest.  Another eight Shadarlak surrounded Dylan.

Dylan trudged up the dune and stopped before Fatimah.  “Is she alive?”

“Yes, sir,” Laesh said.  “No wounds that I can see.”

Dylan scanned the clearing and saw Ladak’s body at the bottom of the other side of the dune.  From the looks of him, he was surely dead, but after the things he had seen the past two months, Dylan was not going to take that for granted.  He ordered three Shadarlak to train their revolvers on Ladak and fire if he should move.

“Any sign of Abraeu?” Dylan asked Laesh.

“Not yet, sir,” Laesh said.  “There are a lot of tracks about, but we should be able to pick up his trail.”

Fatimah took in a sudden breath, and then opened her eyes.  She blinked several times and squinted up at Laesh.  She looked confused for a moment, and then her eyes widened.

“Taran,” she said.  She tried sitting up too quickly, and then fell back on her elbows.

“Easy, miss,” Laesh said.

“Taran’s not here,” Dylan said.  “What happened?”

Fatimah told him.

“I really thought he was going to kill me,” she said, her eyes brimming.

A single cannon blast rung out from the ships at Tsall’s piers.  There were no other blasts, which meant the ships were calling him back so they could depart.

“Captain,” Dylan called out to Laesh, who was conferring with one of his lieutenants at the bottom of the dune.  “Abraeu’s trail?”

“No, sir.  His footprints end at the edge of the forest here.  Beyond the tree line…there’s nothing.”

Dylan looked at Fatimah.  “Can he just…disappear?”

Fatimah shook her head.  “I do not know the extent of his abilities.  Maybe.  I never thought anyone could Wield without raising a hand to one of the rings, but he proved me wrong there.”

She put a hand on Dylan’s arm.  “He does not want to be found.  Perhaps it is best we not look for him.  My people still want to judge him and they would certainly find him guilty, especially after what I witnessed.”

“But isn’t he dangerous?  If what you say happened, should he be allowed to roam free?”

Fatimah slowly said, “He could have killed me.  But he did not.”

She stared at him for a few moments, allowing the words to sink in, and Dylan nodded.  He turned around and said, “Captain, we’re going back to the ship.  Recall your men.”

“Yes, sir.”

Fatimah smiled.  “He is the Zervakan.  He will do the right thing.”

Dylan scanned the forest into which Taran had disappeared.  “I hope so.”

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 47

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

ZERVAKAN

by Rob Steiner

 

Chapter 47

Fatimah pushed her way through the cheering Tuathans standing on Tsall’s piers, most of them pointing at the two ships a half-mile away.  She could not share in their joy, for she not only had abandoned her Master to death at the hands of a Fomorian and a harrower, but she may have just given them Taran Abraeu by removing the barrier around him.

Dylan Edoss called out to her.  As always, his Shadarlak surrounded him, all of their uniforms torn, dirty, and stained with blood.

“Where is Taran?” he asked.

Fatimah shook her head.  “I think he was taken.”

His eyes narrowed.  “Taken?”

“The Fomorians.”

Looking around the beach, Edoss asked, “The Fomorians were on the beach?”

“No,” Fatimah said, unable to form the right words through her haze of fear and guilt.  “They took him.”

She pointed in the direction in which she last saw Taran snatched like a fish on a hook.  She could still see his limbs flailing sickeningly like he was already dead.

“It was like they reached down from the sky and grabbed him,” she said.  “I saw him…flying that way.”

A male Tuathan voice from behind her said, “Fatimah.”

Fatimah turned.  A Heshman walked toward her carrying Eblin in his arms.  Eblin looked more disheveled than Fatimah had ever seen her—hair matted with sweat and mud, woolen cloak torn.  But when her eyes found Fatimah, she gave her Apprentice a weary smile.  She was alive.

Fatimah ran to Eblin and took her hand.  Eblin said to the Heshman, “You may put me down now, thank you.”

The Heshman lowered Eblin’s feet to the sand, and Eblin stood shakily.  Fatimah put Eblin’s arm around her shoulder to steady her, and Eblin did not protest.

“There are only two ships,” Eblin said, watching the ships grow closer.  “There were four, but two were sunk in a harrower attack just behind that peninsula.”  Lowering her voice and glancing about, Eblin said, “There is not enough room for everyone.”

“Damn,” Edoss said.  In a low voice, he said, “These people are already in a panic.  What are they going to do when they find out the ships can’t take them all?”

Eblin frowned.  “They will accept our new plan, I think.  The Master Circle has decided that most of the priests and the Heshman shall remain behind and travel through the Guardians up the coast to Markwatch.  I would suggest, Dylan Edoss, that you and your men accompany us.”

Dylan nodded grimly.  “Yes.  That shaves off 150 people.”  Squinting at the arriving ships, Dylan said, “It’ll be a tight fit, but they should accommodate the rest.”

Eblin said to Fatimah, “You and I will accompany our people on the ships, along with two more priests on the second ship.  We will take Taran Abraeu with us…”

Eblin stopped speaking when she saw Fatimah’s face.  She looked around.  “Where is Taran Abraeu?  Speaker Edoss, we had an agreement—”

Before Dylan could answer, Fatimah said, “It is my fault, Master.  I released the barrier around him so that he could help the Heshmen and the Recindians fight the Tainted.”

Dylan’s eyes widened.  “That was Taran?  He destroyed the Tainted?”

Fatimah nodded.  “But after he did so, he was…pulled…through the sky, in that direction.”

She pointed to where the road from Fedalan entered Tsall.  She said to Eblin, “Ladak must have him by now.”

Eblin suddenly looked tired, as if her age and the events of the past month had caught her all at once.  She sighed.  “He is lost to us, then.”

“No,” Fatimah said.  “We cannot leave him.  He just saved our people from destruction!  They would have all been slaughtered if not for him.”

“Yes,” Eblin said, “and he Wielded Angra to do it.”

Fatimah shook her head.  “I know but…he saved us…”

“It does not matter,” Eblin said patiently.  “The more he Wields Angra, the more he will become like the Fomorians, regardless of any good intentions he may have.  And now that he is in the hands of one…  He will become a harrower, if he has not already.”

“He will resist!”

“He will not have a choice,” Eblin said in a tone that was meant to end the debate.  “Now, you will accompany me to the pier where we will lead our people—”

“I will not,” Fatimah said.

Eblin’s face sagged.  “You will, priest.”

Fatimah shook her head, not quite understanding why she was disobeying her Master, something that meant excommunication from the priesthood, all for a man who had just Wielded Angra in front of her.  But she did know that her dreams would never again be peaceful if she left Taran behind.  He had saved the six priests at the Heiron during the initial Tainted attack, and he had just saved the Tuathans on the beach from horrible deaths when he could have just ran when Fatimah released his barrier.  But he did not.  He did not have the heart of a Fomorian.  He was the Zervakan.  Only Ahura knew why she was so certain of it, but she was.

“I…I cannot leave him,” she said.  “I have to try.  I am sorry, Master.”

Eblin whispered, “Fatimah, please…”

Fatimah turned and ran toward the small road through Tsall, trying to forget Eblin’s pleading eyes.  She was half way through the town’s main road when she heard Dylan Edoss behind her, calling for her to stop a moment.  Knowing she would be unable to outrun his Shadarlak, she stopped, then turned and said, “You are not going to stop me from—”

“I wasn’t going to stop you,” Edoss said, breathing heavy.  “I want to help you.”

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 46

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

ZERVAKAN

by Rob Steiner

 

Chapter 46

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to create new harrowers?” Ladak asked Taran.

Taran still knelt before Ladak, shaking from the impact of hitting the ground from twenty paces in the air.  He could take breath into his lungs now, but each one was like a knife thrust to his side.

“Very hard,” Ladak continued, while walking around Taran.  “I have to kill someone, and then raise his body in a long ritual that takes too much time and energy.  I won’t bore you with the details.”

Ladak bent to one knee, his face inches from Taran’s.  “Now I would prefer not to do that with you.  I would prefer that you help me because it’s in your best interest, not because I force you.”

In a rasping voice, Taran said, “I killed you.”

“Yes and no,” Ladak said.  “You killed one of my harrowers, which I molded to look like me.  Quite a good likeness if I say so myself.”

“Why?” Taran asked.  Better to listen to his arrogance than try to fight off his Wields.

“Because I needed you good and mad to Wield Angra.  And who better to get you good and mad than a former friend raping your daughter.  Anger mixed with betrayal can be quite powerful.  And judging by what you did to my harrower, I was right.  Now I know you are a Zervakan, one who can Wield both Angra and Ahura.  Someone who will return the Fomorians to their rightful place in this world.”

Ladak sighed.  “You know what it’s like in the Compact these days.  Pathism dominates every institution with a belief in nothing higher than itself.  But Pathists have chosen to blind themselves to the wider realities in the world.  That’s why I need your help to excise the Pathist infection that dominates this continent, an infection that seeks to destroy anything that challenges it.”

Taran eased himself backward—enduring terrible stabs of pain in his ribs—so that he sat rather than knelt.  “Unlike you.”

“Right,” Ladak said.  “Unlike me.  I want to open the Compact’s eyes to the real world.  You see me as some evil madman.  I am not.  I have a purpose, one that the First Cause Itself preordained when It created the universe.  The Tuathans believe that Angra is evil, but they have forgotten that Angra and Ahura serve the same purpose.  Renewal.  Progress.”

“Stop lecturing me and tell me what you want,” Taran said.

Ladak smiled.  “But I thought you were a scientist, Dr. Abraeu.  Aren’t you the least bit curious about me?  You’ve spent the last six years trying to prove that the ‘Mystics’ exist.  Don’t you want to know why we exist?”

“Of course.  I just don’t think you’ll tell me the truth.”

Ladak laughed.  “You are a bundle of contradictions, Doctor.  You believe in something that everyone tells you is a fairy tale, yet you turn into a skeptic when you encounter the very thing you believe in.”

“I trusted you, Ladak, and you lied to me.  Why should I believe you?”

“Because I will show you how to heal your daughter’s illness.”

Taran stared at the man for a moment before what he said registered in his mind.

He fears you, the dark voice said.  That is why he hasn’t killed you yet, why he’s stalling for time.  Kill him before he finds a way to kill you.

“How?” Taran asked.

Ladak shook his head, grinning.  “Now, now.  Information as valuable as that comes with a price.  You must first do something for me.”

“What?”

“Kill every last Tuathan on that beach.”

Yes!  Let’s kill them all!  We’ll start with Ladak, and then wipe out the whole lot of them on the beach.  Then we’ll move on to—

“How do I know you can heal Mara?” Taran asked.  “Again, why should I believe you?”

Four harrowers emerged from the woods behind Ladak.  Three men and one woman, and all looked to be Tuathan.  Or rather, used to be Tuathan.  Their skin was a sickly gray, and their eyes had a milky haze.  Their clothes were ragged and torn, and one of the men had an open chest wound that seeped dark gray fluid.  When they saw Taran, they encircled him, each with an upraised hand ready to Wield Angra.

Ladak smiled at his creations, and then said to Taran, “Can you afford not to believe me?  Can you let slip away what might be your daughter’s one chance to escape the barbaric Mercy?”

Do it, the voice said.  We’ll kill every one of them.

“Fine,” Taran said.  “I’ll do what you ask.  But you have to show me how to heal Mara before I destroy the Tuathans.”

“Right,” Ladak said, “I show you how to heal Mara, and then you try to kill me and save the Tuathans.  I know you Taran, you are not as filled with the spirit of Angra as I am.  Not yet, anyway.”

Taran stood, and the four harrowers took an involuntary step backward.  They fear you, the voice said.  Kill them now, and then we’ll kill all the Tuathans.  Do it!

“It’s five against one,” Taran said.  “And I have less experience at this than all of you.”

“Maybe,” Ladak said, “but you seem to be a quick learner.”

“Mara first, then I kill the Tuathans.  If you don’t like it, kill me now.”

The confidence in Ladak’s eyes wavered a bit, and Taran knew he had him.  Ladak smiled.  “You are a stubborn man, Dr. Abraeu.  Alright.  I will show you how to heal your daughter.  But keep in mind, doctor, that while I believe you’re a man of your word, I do know where your family lives in Calaman.  And I am not the only Fomorian living there…”

Taran glared at Ladak.  “Save your threats.  I will kill the Tuathans.”

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 45

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

ZERVAKAN

by Rob Steiner

 

Chapter 45

Rida fell into the water writhing with green, slimy tentacles, realizing her death was near.

If this is it, she thought, tightening her grip on her saber, this thing will have a few less limbs before it’s done with me.

One tentacle wrapped around her ankle, its barbs sinking painfully into her flesh, and pulled her out of the water.  She hung on to her saber and swung at the green appendage, severing it.  Her forward momentum continued, and she flew through the air several dozen paces before landing hard in the water again.

This time she lost hold of her saber as water filled her lungs.  She gagged, and then struggled back to the surface.  When she broke above the waves, she coughed up what felt like half the sea before whipping her head around, searching for more tentacles.  The mass of kelp had flung her far from where it still attacked the Teelamark and the Windrider.

Explosions erupted behind Rida, and she turned in the water to see the Vendir and Kingfisher circling around and firing their cannons.  But they did not fire at the mass of kelp tentacles pulling the wrecked Teelamark and Windrider into the water.  They fired at the peninsula a half mile away.

She wanted to scream they were firing in the wrong direction, but realized that was where Brya had seen the three Angra trails.  The two ships continued firing at the peninsula, pouring all their shells into the dense forest.  Trees disintegrated up and down the peninsula, and dark smoke wafted from the fires that broke out where the shells hit.

“General!”

Rida looked up at the Vendir, saw several crewmen calling to her while another tossed her a rope.  She swam for the rope, grabbed it, and they pulled her toward the ship.  Once she was close, they lowered a rope ladder and she climbed aboard.  When she crawled onto the deck, she turned on her back and lay there, breathing heavily and gagging.  The Vendir’s guns continued to roar from the cannon ports below deck, but at this moment, all she cared about was coughing up the rest of the seawater still in her lungs.  One of the crewmen, the ship’s doctor by the look of his blood-stained white apron, asked her in broken Recindian how she felt.  Rida waved him off to tend to the more seriously wounded.

When the firing tapered off, she pulled herself to her feet and looked to where the Windrider and the Teelamark had been.  All that was left of them were the masts poking out of the water and a field of debris bobbing around them.  The kelp tentacles no longer moved, simply floating on the water in a large gray-green mass.  The kelp seemed to be dissolving in the water, turning the area around the two sunken ships into a brackish mix of gray muck, wood shards, and body parts.  The crews of the Vendir and the Kingfisher were pulling aboard the survivors of the other two ships.  There were not many.

The captain of the Vendir, with much more gray in his hair and beard than the captain of the Windrider, approached Rida.  His clothes were torn and wet, and blood covered his entire left arm.  Rida was reminded of her own bloody wound on her ankle, which began to sting when she looked down at it.  Following the captain was Nyla Meck, one of the Tuathan priests stationed on the Vendir.

“A bloody debacle, General Myndehr,” the captain said in fluent Recindian, pointing to the sunken ships.  “But we got the bastards on the peninsula, thanks to Nyla here.”

The young red-haired priest wore a blank stare that Rida had seen too many times on the faces of young men after their first battle.

“It was her idea to target the harrowers rather than that…thing out there.”

“When a harrower falls,” Nyla said quietly, “its Tainted spawn does as well.”

Rida nodded, not wanting to dwell much on these supernaturalist creatures.  “How did the Vendir and Kingfisher fare?”

The captain shrugged.  “We took a few bumps from the monster, but my men handled it well.”  He looked out at the wrecks of the other two ships.  “I know speed is of the essence here, General, but I would like to see if there are any survivors.”

“Make it a quick search, captain,” Rida said.  “There are several hundred people out there at the mercy of these harrowers.”

The captain nodded, and then joined his crew scanning the water for survivors.  Rida turned to Nyla and said, “Can you…send a message to Melahara and tell her what happened?”

Nyla nodded, and then raised her hand and closed her eyes.  She mumbled something in the Tuathan language.  Her eyes rolled beneath her lids a moment, then sprung open.

“They are also under attack!”

Rida slammed her fist on the deck railing.  She limped over to the captain, who was talking with his first officer in Turician.  “We have to go now, captain.  The Tuathans are under attack and they will need your guns.”

The captain frowned, glancing at the waters around the sunken ships.  When he saw nobody moving, he sighed.  “Very well.”

He gave orders to his first officer, who began shouting to the other officers.  The Vendir and the Kingfisher eventually turned away from the wreckages of their sister ships and raced toward Tsall.

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 44

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

ZERVAKAN

by Rob Steiner

 

Chapter 44

“Ladak?” Taran said when Edoss told him about the Fomorian outside the wagon.  “That’s impossible.  I…  How could he be a Fomorian?”

Edoss said, “I don’t know.”

Taran was stunned that the man he thought he had torn to pieces now stood outside the shield.  Had the Ladak Taran killed been an illusion, too?

Though his hands were still bound, he balled them into fists and slammed them down on the floor of the wagon.  “He saw my daughter,” Taran said.  “He saw her in the picture I showed him.  That’s how he created the illusion of her.”

So kill him again if he makes you so angry, the dark voice said.  Taran’s hands shook, for he wanted to do just that.

“He wants the Tuathans to hand you over to him,” Edoss said.

“So either I’m executed by the Tuathans, or given to the Fomorians to become one of their harrowers.”

“Taran,” Edoss said, “I can’t begin to understand what you are or what you can do.  But you are a Compact citizen, and it is my duty to keep you safe.  I will not let the Tuathans kill you, Doctor Abreau, nor let them give you to the Fomorians.”

Taran locked stares with the Speaker.  Edoss couldn’t do much if the Tuathans, much less the Fomorians, decided they wanted to keep Taran.  Still, he appreciated the Speaker’s willingness to fight for him.

“Thank you, Excellency.  You’re a good man.”  With a rueful grin, Taran said, “I’m sorry I didn’t vote for you.”

Edoss returned his grin.  “Well I damn well better have it in the next election.”

Edoss’s grin melted when they heard several people screaming from the other end of the column.  When gunfire erupted, Edoss jumped out of the wagon, as did Taran.

Outside was chaos.  Tuathans ran toward them from the front of the column, while priests and Heshmen ran in the opposite direction.  The Shadarlak surrounding the wagon immediately formed a protective circle around Edoss and Taran, causing Edoss to peer between their shoulders to see what was happening.

When Cursh entered the Shadarlak circle, Edoss shouted, “What’s happening?”

“I don’t know, but I think the shield just fell.”

Taran looked up and noticed for the first time that the bluish translucence of the shield no longer surrounded them.

Unholy shrieks burst from the forest behind the column.  Dozens of Tainted monstrosities—multi-limbed, glistening, barbed tentacles—chased panicked Tuathans toward the beach.  Six or seven Shadarlak ran behind the last of the Tuathans, covering their flight with revolver fire in a running retreat.  A dozen Heshmen also covered the Tuathans, tossing spears and shooting arrows at the beasts.

But bullets and spears did not stop the Tainted.  One of the monsters wrapped its tentacles around a Shadarlak and pulled him into the air, where several more clawed legs ripped the screaming man in half and tossed both sections to the side.

Captain Laesh burst through the circle of Shadarlak and pulled Edoss toward the beach without an apology over his rough handling.  Taran followed, leaping into a sprint toward the beach.  As they ran, Captain Laesh took a knife from his belt and cut Taran’s bindings.  Taran was grateful, but with the Tuathan barrier surrounding him, he could Wield neither Ahura nor Angra to fight the Tainted.  After only two days of Wielding, he already felt helpless knowing he could not touch either ring.

As if on cue, the dark voice in his mind laughed quietly.

The road turned and twisted between abandoned, crumbling thatch huts and log buildings before ending at two stone piers on the beach.  All along the beach, people ran into the waves to escape the braying, screeching Tainted loping after them.  Taran wondered if the panicked Tuathans expected to swim to Turricia.

Taran watched in awed horror as the Heshmen and the Shadarlak formed up ranks, side by side, creating a line so the Tainted could not reach the fleeing Tuathans charging into the waves.  Edoss formed his men into firing lines, while Laesh commanded a second group of Shadarlak.  Heshmen captains cried out orders to their men.  The men had just formed their ranks when the Tainted horde slammed into them.  Arrows, spears, sabers, and bullets filled the air.  Though no Tainted seem to die, many fell to the ground, thrashing about without limbs severed by the humans.  But many more—too many more—leaped over their flailing brethren and engaged the small army in a melee of spurting tubes, sabers, and spears.

“Taran!”

Taran turned to his left and saw Fatimah running toward him, tears streaming down her face.  “I cannot find Eblin.  You have to help me find Eblin!”

Taran grabbed a hold of Fatimah’s shoulders, glancing at the howling Tainted just a few paces away.  “Where did you see her last?”

“She was— I was right beside her when…when the shield fell.  After that…”  She looked at Taran, shame contorting her face.  “I left her.  I ran, and I left her.”

“Fatimah, I’ll help you find her,” Taran said, “but you have to help me.  Can you remove this barrier around me?”

Fatimah shook her head.  “I do not know how.  It was something Melahara discovered.”  She scanned the panicked mass of Tuathans along the beach, and screamed, “Eblin!  Eblin!”

“Fatimah,” Taran shouted.  “You have to try, or I can’t help you.”

She stared at him, as if searching his soul for something.  Taran knew what it was.

“Fatimah, I am not a harrower.”  The dark voice laughed.  You’re becoming a good liar.

Fatimah looked at him for a desperate moment, then raised her hand to Ahura, closed her eyes, and said an incantation.  A multi-colored tendril of Ahura weaved down from the ring and caressed Fatimah’s hand.  Fatimah put a hand on Taran’s heart.  Her brow furrowed.  She tilted her head from side to side, as if looking for something she could not find.  Moments later she opened her eyes, frustration filling them.

“I cannot find it—”

“Try again, Fatimah,” Taran said.  He pointed to the slaughter going on only a dozen paces away.  “They won’t last much longer.”

She closed her eyes again, and the tendril of Ahura returned to her hand.  After several moments, a horrible shriek filled the air, and Taran looked up to see one of the Tainted break through the ranks of the Heshmen and Shadarlak.  Its four gray limbs pumped hard straight for him and Fatimah.  The sun glistened sickeningly off its mottled skin and five moist, barbed legs.

Taran wondered briefly what this poor creature had once been.  He wondered, too, what would happen to him if he fell into Fomorian hands and they turned him into some version of that thing.  Better to die from it than to become it.

And then the barrier was gone.  Fear, anger, and frustration at the Tainted attack overwhelmed Taran, and he reached for Angra rather than Ahura.  A black tendril from the ring forked down to his outstretched hand, and he directed all his hatred and loathing at the creature about to attack him and Fatimah.  Flames burst from the beast’s various mouths, consuming the monster’s entire body in a flash, as if it were dry grass.  Nothing was left but cloud of ash dispersing on the sea breeze.

But his anger was not appeased.  He pointed at the entire line of Tainted that were slaughtering the Heshmen and Shadarlak.  One by one, up and down the line, they exploded into flames.  The Tainted were immolated so fast that Shadarlak in mid-swing with their sabers sliced through air, and Heshmen stabbed with their spears at flaming ash.

When all the monsters were destroyed, and none flowing from the huts and alleys nearby, the Tuathans and the Recindians glanced at one another in disbelief.  They did not stand around long, for Edoss and the Heshman captains ordered their men to form up ranks again to protect the mass of panicked Tuathans gathering in the water and on the stone piers.

Taran held on to Angra, searching for something else to destroy.  Now kill them all, the dark voice said, before they kill you!

“No!” Taran screamed.  Then with a great force of will, he released Angra.  The crush of Mundane senses returned.

Taran looked at Fatimah, who stared at him with wide eyes.  She took a couple of steps backward.

“We need to find Eblin now,” Taran said.  “Please don’t look at me like that Fatimah.  I can control it.  I can…”

Fatimah gave him a pitiful look and shook her head.  “It will destroy you.”

Before Taran could respond, he felt a crushing force, like a large invisible hand, grab him around the torso and fling him into the air above the beach.  He flew several dozen paces over the abandoned village toward the edge of the forest nearby.  He fell onto the muddy road from which he had just fled, the impact knocking the breath from his lungs and stunning him.  Gasping for breath, he looked up.

Kumar Ladak squatted in front of him, his gray eyes bright beneath his tri-corner hat.

“Hello, Taran.  We need to talk.”

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 43

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

ZERVAKAN

by Rob Steiner

 

Chapter 43

Rida Myndehr stood on the bow of the Turician schooner, willing it to go faster.  Damned backward, stubborn Turicians, she thought.  Why don’t they use the damned steam engines we gave them?  We’d have been there yesterday.

She knew the answer, that the Turicians viewed Compact technology with the same suspicion that she viewed the Tuathan Wielders.  She supposed she could understand the feeling, though it did nothing to ease her impatience and frustration with the slow pace of the schooners.

Though the Beldamark coast was only a half-mile off the starboard side, and Brya had told her that they were only an hour from the Tuathan encampment on the beach, she still felt as if she were late.  Brya had described Melahara’s reports of harrower attacks, and that the Tuathan priests barely hung on to the massive shield Taran Abraeu had created.  She only hoped they could hang on for an hour more.

Rida pulled her woolen, dark-green Shadarlak coat tighter around her neck to fight the biting wind.  Two weeks ago she never would have believed such supernaturalist nonsense like live Mystics, magical arches that transport people hundreds of miles in an instant, or demonic creatures from a madman’s nightmares.  Now she did not give such things a second thought.  They were simply one more enemy to fight and defeat.

The captain of the Turician ship she was on, the Waverider, approached her.  Like most Turicians, Captain Gemdi Hass had a full black beard and a full head of curly hair.  And like most Turicians at Markwatch, he was gaunt from the plague that had swept through the city over a month ago.

He pointed to a large jut of land five miles away and said in a thick Turician accent, “The Mystic priest say that Tuathans are on other side of point.”

Rida nodded.  Even though she knew, she asked, “How long?”

“Another hour, maybe less if wind holds.”  The captain looked up at his full sails.  “Ahura blesses us with good wind.”

Rida nodded.  She glanced at the three schooners behind them.  The Kingfisher, the Vendir, and the Teelamark sailed in a single-file line so as to fit through the narrow, fifty-pace corridor between the coral reef beds on either side of them.  Between the four, they should have more than enough room to hold the five hundred or so Tuathans—

“General!” Brya screamed from behind, running up the deck past startled crewmen.  “General, I see Angra trails!”

“Where?”

“On the peninsula,” she said, pointing at the jut of land Captain Hass had just pointed out.  She saw nothing there, but knew that the Tuathans saw with different eyes.

“How many?”

Brya squinted.  “Two—no, wait, a third just appeared.”

“Can you shield the ships?”

Brya shook her head helplessly.  “They are too big for me.  Maybe around a few people, but that is all.”

“Damn,” Rida said, under her breath.  She turned to Captain Hass.  “Signal your ships and tell them to—”

She stopped when she saw the mass of frothing water racing head-on toward the Windrider.  The mass was over a hundred paces long, encompassing the entire corridor through the reef.  It would be on the schooners in moments.

Captain Hass shouted something to the pilot at the stern of the ship.  The schooner turned sharply to the starboard side.  The Teelamark also turned to starboard, attempting to weave around the Windrider.  But Teelamark’s captain realized he was heading right for an outcropping of rocks, and then turned back to port…right into the Windrider’s path.

There was only time for Rida to hear the captains scream different orders to their pilots before both ships collided.  The stern of the Teelamark rammed into the port bow of the Windrider with a terrible grinding and cracking wood.  Rida was thrown to the deck, and she saw Captain Hass tumble over the railing and into the water.  Brya landed hard on her side nearby, and Rida heard a sickening crack followed by Brya screaming and holding the bone jutting out of her left forearm.  Water gushed through the hole in the Windrider’s side, and the ship listed forward.

Over the snapping wood, yelling crewmen, and flooding below deck, Rida heard the frothing water approach them with tremendous speed.  She raised her head above the ship’s railing in time to see a large wave hit the interlocked Windrider and Teelamark.  Both ships surged upwards as the wave passed beneath them, then came down with a jarring thump into the water.  The Windrider listed further forward, but the wave had vanished.  The Windrider and the Teelamark bobbed up and down in its wake.

All was quiet a moment, and then the sea exploded with dozens of tentacles that reminded Rida all too vividly of the Tainted attack on the train in Doare.  But these tentacles looked like barbed kelp, and smelled of seaweed, fish, and rot.  The tentacles thrashed about the decks, grabbing screaming men, pulling them over the side or tearing off limbs.

When one of the tentacles wrapped itself around Brya’s right leg, Rida blinked away her shock and drew her saber.  Brya screamed when the tentacle yanked her toward the railing.  Rida ran over and severed the tentacle with one swing of her saber.  The remaining part still wrapped around Brya’s leg continued to writhe and thrash, its barbs sinking deeper into Brya’s flesh.

More tentacles shot from out of the water.  The crewmen had produced swords and were hacking at each tentacle that tried grabbing them.  But it was not enough.  The Windrider continued to lose men.  The deck was littered with torn limbs, and slick with blood and pieces of trampled kelp.

As Rida hacked away at the Tainted kelp, she heard a groaning of wood from the front of the ship.  She turned in time to see dozens of tentacles wrap around the ship’s masthead—a dour looking mermaid—and pull the front of the ship into the water.  As the stern jerked downward, Rida lost her footing and slid down the slippery deck into a mass of writhing kelp.

 

“Harrowers!”

Fatimah looked up to see one of the younger priests pointing at the two harrowers still standing on the beach.  They had not moved since Melahara had last spoken to them.

“Have you been asleep?” another priest asked.  “They’ve been there an hour.”

“Not them,” the first priest said.  “Over there.”

She pointed to the small wooded peninsula a few miles away, where large rocks jutted out from the tip, like the skeletal spine of a submerged sea monster.

Three black tendrils snaked down from Angra to a position on the peninsula’s point.

Fatimah jumped up and raced to where Melahara talked with Eblin and Ocrim Tylea.  All three looked up when Fatimah skidded to a stop in front of them.

“Angra trails,” she said, “on the peninsula to the north.”

All three ran with her to the beach, while Eblin limped along as fast as she could.  They stopped just short of the beach, a dozen paces from the end of the shield, and stared at the three undulating, black tendrils.

Melahara looked at Ladak.  “What is happening over there?”

Ladak glanced at the tendrils.  “Oh, that.  That means the ships from Markwatch you were waiting for won’t be arriving within the hour.  What am I saying?  They won’t be arriving at all.”

He opened his gold pocket watch. “And your hour is up.  What say you about my generous offer?”

Melahara raised her hand to Ahura and closed her eyes a few moments, then lowered her hand slowly and stared at Ladak, horrified.

“What is happening?” Ocrim Tylea asked.

“Brya says they are under attack,” Melahara said, “but she was cut off.”  She looked at Ladak.  “What have you done?”

“Made sure that you have no choice but to accept my offer.”

Ocrim Tylea spat, “You mean your surrender terms?”

Ladak shrugged.  “Whatever you want to call it.”

He put the watch back in his black coat and adjusted his tri-corner hat.  “Am I to assume that you refuse to hand over the Zervakan?”

Eblin finally arrived and said, “You know we cannot give him to you.”

Ladak sighed, as if he were truly disappointed.  But Fatimah thought he was trying to control a smile.  “That disappoints me.  The Tuathans and the Fomorians should be allies in this world, not adversaries.  The Mundanes will destroy us all if they get the chance.  Look at the technology the Compact developed in a mere two hundred years—muskets, cannon, trains, wiretypes.  Maybe not today or tomorrow, but certainly within the next fifty years they will be powerful enough to challenge us.  ”

Melahara said, “You make it sound as if we should rule the Mundanes by divine right.  That is the Fomorian way, not the Tuathan.  We choose to live in peace with the Mundanes.  And to stop you from enslaving them.”

Ladak raised an eyebrow.  “You cannot save them if you are all dead.”

Ocrim said, “We will resist you if you attack us again.”

Ladak chuckled.  “Ah, you mean you will hide behind your magnificent shield.  Well, about that….”

An arrow hissed from out of the woods and struck the heart of the priest holding the shield.  The young, red-haired priest’s eyes rolled into her head and she fell on her back.

The blue shield winked out of existence before another priest could take over.

“Arrows are crude, but effective,” Ladak said.  “Now what were you saying about resisting?”

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 42

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

ZERVAKAN

by Rob Steiner

 

Chapter 42

Melahara resumed the Tuathan march an hour after Taran’s capture.  Fatimah still held the shield when the call ran up and down the column, and Melahara forced her to relinquish control of the shield to another priest.  Just as Bessi was disappointed to give up the shield, Fatimah reluctantly gave the shield to a priest older than her, who took it with an eager gleam in her eyes.  When Ahura left Fatimah, she slumped against a priest who was there to support her.  She was able to stand on her feet within minutes, but her body still wanted nothing more than to lie down.  She chose to stay with the priests holding the shield.  If one of them should lose her concentration, perhaps she would have a chance to Wield again and forget about Taran.

She gave an involuntary glance back at the covered wagon that held Taran.  Eblin still rode on the front seat with the Heshman driver, but the remaining Shadarlak flanked the wagon, including a sizable contingent of priests and Heshmen.  As the column started its march, the two sides began to eye the forests on either side of them more than each other, a development that gave Fatimah hope their alliance was not dead.

After a few hours of marching, Melahara came forward and walked among the shield priests.

“I have received word through Ahura from Brya Lueng.  General Myndehr arrived safely in Markwatch, and Lord Ven Demeg has already dispatched four ships.  They should be awaiting us when we arrive at Tsall.”

Relieved whispers spread through the ranks of the priests, and the news traveled fast along the column of weary Tuathans.  The news seemed to make the column move a little quicker toward the seaside village of Tsall.  Even Fatimah felt her sadness ebb a little.  At least her people would soon be safe.  Relatively speaking.  For there was nowhere her people would be truly safe from the Fomorians and harrowers.

As the night wore on, priest after priest held the shield, none for more than an a half hour, before being relieved by another priest.  Fatimah herself eagerly took another turn at maintaining the shield, and each time experienced the torturous process of giving it up to another priest at the end of her turn.  All of the priests experienced the same fatigue that she felt afterwards, but all were growing strong enough to remain standing after giving up the shield.  Also, as each turn passed, the priests could Wield much sooner after a previous Wield.  Though still terribly difficult, they were becoming much more disciplined about giving up Ahura when their turns were over.  None wanted to suffer Pomar’s fate.  Better to experience the loss of Ahura for a little while than forever.

When the night sky turned purple in the east, Fatimah spotted seagulls in the sky, and even smelled the saltiness of the sea.  Others began to notice the same thing, and excited murmurs raced up and down the bone-weary column.  Mothers whispered encouraging words to older children, while fathers carried young children too tired to walk.  Many parents looked as if they needed to be carried themselves.  It took most of Fatimah’s concentration to put one foot in front of the other.

The sun broke above the tree lines as Fatimah began to hear the faint crashing waves.  The smell of the sea was stronger now, and a breeze had picked up.  Within an hour, the column rounded a bend and stared at the abandoned huts and stone piers of the Tuathan village Tsall.  The village had been deserted two decades ago after a terrible hurricane destroyed most of the town.  Without the resources to rebuild, along with a dwindling population, the survivors simply moved to different villages inside the Beldamark.

Beyond the decaying huts, Fatimah saw the dark blue sea.  White waves crashed on the crumbling stone piers and a narrow strip of sandy beach that stretched north and south beyond sight.  The red sun hung just above the sea’s horizon, making the water look like sparkling diamonds and rubies.

It was one of the most beautiful sights Fatimah had ever seen.

The ragged band of Tuathans behind her surged forward to stand on the sandy beach, as if being near the sea would make them safe forever.  Fatimah also wanted to walk in the surf that pounded the sand.  It had been years since she had seen the sea, and the salvation from the harrowers it promised made her want to touch the water.

The first inkling Fatimah had that something was wrong was that the promised ships were no where in sight.  That concerned her, but she was not too worried since the vessels could be called by communication through Ahura to the priest on the ship.

What scared her were the two harrowers who emerged from the forest and walked beside the lead Tuathans, just outside the shield.  They also had a shield of their own, although theirs made everything within it distorted, as if viewed through an unevenly cast window.

As they approached, Fatimah could make out two men.  One wore the same buckskin and woolen clothes of a Tuathan, though much shabbier and muddier than even the marching Tuathans.

Fatimah was even more shocked by the other harrower.  He wore Recindian clothes—black breeches, white shirt, black coat, and a black tri-corner hat.  He had a thick, white mustache that hung over his lips.  Fatimah recognized him as the man who had shared a tent with Taran during their march from Markwatch, but she could not remember his name.  She wondered why she had not smelled the Taint of Angra on him when she first met him, then realized she had never come within five paces of the man.  She had only smelled the Taint on Taran when she was less than a pace from him.

The Recindian bowed, and said, “We come under a flag of truce.  Please excuse the fact we have no flag.”

The second man next to him, a little older than Fatimah, gave a high-pitched maniacal laugh.

“Who are you?” Melahara said, striding toward the two harrowers, but staying within the shield.

“Kumar Ladak, proud Fomorian at your service, my lady.  And my associate is…well, I don’t really know his name.  Forgot to ask when I turned him into a harrower.  Anyway, our names are not important, but our offer is.  Give us the Zervakan, and your people may live.”

“The Zervakan, the Zervakan,” the younger man repeated, his grin showing yellow, rotten teeth.  He hopped around like a dog eager for a treat.

“What makes you think we have him?”

Ladak snorted.  “Who else could have created this grand shield?  Quite impressive, I must say.  We know you do not yet have the strength to create one.  Which means you have a Zervakan among you.”

“Zervakan, Zervakan,” the younger man chanted.

“Even if we did have the Zervakan among us, you know we cannot give him to you.  You will only use him against us.”

“And you would not use him against us?”  Ladak shook his head reproachfully at Melahara, as if scolding a young child.  Melahara’s frown said she did not appreciate it.

“Whether or not you believe this,” Ladak said, “our fight is not with you, Holy Seat.”

Melahara raised an eyebrow.  “And I suppose the attack on our Heiron and the harassment along our journey was your idea of opening diplomatic relations?”

Ladak pointed a finger at her.  “We were prepared to leave you in peace, but you forced us to act by allying with our true enemy—the Recindian Compact.  They represent the greatest threat in this world to my people and to yours.”

“Ah, so we should band together to fight the Compact, is that right?”  Melahara laughed.  “We may lack your Wielding strength—for the moment—but we are not fools.”

“Think about it,” Ladak said patiently.  “I’ve lived in the Compact for generations.  Their Pathist priests have corrupted the people with their teachings against ‘supernaturalism.’  They’ve fought two wars against Mazumdahr, a country that has strong ‘supernaturalist’ beliefs, simply because the Compact fears those beliefs.  Do you really think the Pathists in the Compact will just let you settle on their lands?  Even if their government believes you, the people will not.  They have been conditioned too well.  You know this.  It will be just like a thousand years ago, when you were chased into the Beldamark by mobs with pitchforks and nooses.”

Melahara regarded the Fomorian with a smirk, but Fatimah saw her eyes begin to narrow, as if Ladak’s words had struck home.

“This world has forgotten the powers that created it,” Ladak said, “that keep it strong and enable it to survive.  Given time, the Compact’s fear of ‘supernaturalism’ will make them try to destroy you.”

Eblin approached Melahara, leaning heavily on her staff.  “Since when do harrowers think of the welfare of others?” she asked.

“Fomorian,” Ladak said.  “He’s the harrower.  And I don’t care about your people.  Look at you.  You can barely hold back four harrowers.  What are you going to do when you’re attacked by true-blood Fomorians?  No, we don’t see you as a threat.  But we will if you proceed with this doomed and misguided alliance with the Compact.  We will defeat them regardless of whether you help them.  It’ll just be easier, quicker, and with far less loss of life if you don’t.”

Then he turned to Melahara.  “Give us the Zervakan and we will destroy the Compact within weeks.  You can go back to your Beldamark homes and live peaceful lives like you have done over the last millennium.”

Melahara said, “And after the Compact is defeated you will come for us.”

Fatimah was shocked more at the tone of Melahara’s voice rather than the statement.  It sounded more like a question, as if the Holy Seat was actually considering the Fomorian’s offer.  Fatimah did not allow her face to show her confusion, but she hoped that Eblin noticed the undertones.  If Eblin did, though, her face did not show it.

Ladak smiled.  “As long as your people stay in the Beldamark, you have nothing to fear from us.”

Melahara considered this for a moment.  “And what assurances can you give us?”

Fatimah could not contain her outrage any longer.  “Mother Seat, do not believe anything—”

Eblin hissed, “Silence, girl!”

Fatimah stared at Eblin, but her old Master said, “Do not interrupt the Holy Seat.”

The younger harrower gave a high laugh while staring at Fatimah.  “Turmoil and trouble, hee, hee.”

“So much for Tuathan discipline,” Ladak said, grinning at Fatimah.

“I said,” Melahara repeated, “what assurances can you give me that you will not come after us once the Compact is gone?”

Ladak turned his gray eyes to Melahara.  “Because I know how the Barrier fell, and I can help you raise it again around the Beldamark.”

Ladak took a gold pocket watch from his black coat, glanced at it, and said, “I’ll be generous and give you one hour to talk amongst yourselves.”