…A world where the vilest creatures came to roost. In the past, even her mother, always so brave, wouldn’t dare to utter its name. This was a world where even the snow fell black…
For Jueneva Enmaya, her father’s tales of an ancient land filled with creatures both terrifying and magical were ones of fear, not wonder. After learning she is one of the fabled Dirithi, half-dragon kin, she is forced to uncover her own heritage and links to the harsh land of Akkei Maliss. She will find an inner strength she never knew she had.
What would seem to others, a terrible and tragic end, Jueneva Enmaya rejects defeat, facing her challenges!
Among the ashes of a world forgotten after the Night of Sorrow & Slaughter, Jueneva begins her epic quest to reclaim what was lost and restore the truth of the Five Blackened Realms. Armed with newfound powers and new allies, she will forge a new life. Brave a never-ending onslaught of ferocious beasts to become the heroine and the hope of this shattered land.
The clouds overhead had not broken as predicted. The storm grew stronger throughout the day as Ama’yen’s party traveled away from the coast’s beaches. Rain drizzled and spat on them in flurries but nothing substantial. It was like the storm was taunting them for its own perverse sense of humor. The party’s spirits waned and grew dark as well. Damp hair, feathers, and fur under soggy clothes weighed upon them as much as the seriousness of the quest.
Rivyen and the Private Sloan took the lead and scouted a bit ahead while Lyndasia stayed next to Ama’yen. The other three ex-guardsmen were on the perimeter while Scars trailed behind them all.
Lyndasia leaned over and pulled the reins closer to Ama’yen’s hands. “It will help with the control if you hold them snug but not tight. The horse will sense the direction you want them to go in easier.”
“Oh.” The Yuul looked nervously down at the back of the animal’s head.
“You are not too familiar with horses, I take it?”
“Uh. No. I mean, they roam in the grass plains of our land too, but I was usually taken by cart. I guess I had a privileged upbringing.” She laughed.
“If I think of any other tips I will let you know.” Lyndasia smiled warmly at her.
Several hours later they broke through the tree line, spotting the raging waters of the Nestermaryn River. They grouped together to discuss their options. A rickety wooden bridge rose up and over it in a long arch. It’s condition damaged by the raging storms in the region. Several planks were missing in the middle. The horses were eyeing it, anxious about crossing.
“We are going to have to go in a line. The horses are too broad to go side by side,” Scars advised.
“You think it is safe though, right?” Ama’yen asked, concerned by the bridge’s rough appearance.
Rivyen twisted in his saddle and scanned the length of the construct. “She has taken a beating and could use a little care but I would say she can hold us.”
Rivyen waved for the accompanying soldiers to join the four of them. When they gathered about him, he gave them instructions. “I want the three of you to lead while the two of you to join me in the back. Scars will ride in front and the women in the center. Everyone clear?”
Overhead, the storm flurries erupted and rain pelted them with a vengeance. “Hurry!” Lyndasia exclaimed, pulling a yellow hood over her head.
As they prodded the horses in line onto the bridge, lightning and thunder rumbled over the entire valley.
“We will have to find a shelter on the other side. We cannot travel in this weather,” shouted Rivyen.
Scars nodded. “Agreed. Two of us can scout, one north and one south.”
The first of arrows came out of thin air and struck the lead soldier’s horse in the left shoulder. The poor animal bucked in sudden panic and pain, the rider was flung backwards. He landed hard on his right shoulder then rolled off the bridge.
More arrows came buzzing past like angry bees or were striking into the boards of the bridge. The party was neatly trapped in the middle of the bridge. More arrows were coming from the thick shrubs along both sides of the river.
“The Beleardea! They have found us!!” screamed Lyndasia.
The wounded horse leaped back and forth still terrorized. Scars bolted from his own mount and tried to grab the beast’s reins. From below, hanging from the side, the horse’s rider called out to him as he clung to a post. “Help me! Help!”
Another soldier jumped off his horse. “Get him, leave the horse to me.”
Scars knelt down as the other man snagged the reins and tried to calm the animal. He steered it closer to one side.
“MAKE FOR THE OTHER SIDE! CHARGE PAST THEM!” Rivyen commanded.
As one, the rest of the party leaned in close to their horses and surged forward down the remaining length. However, on the other side, men in black wrappings emerged from the thick scrub bush on the opposite side and poured out onto the bridge . They wore red hoods that covered their heads and faces . They had black scimitars in hand.
Lyndasia somersaulted off her horse and landed in a roll. Her serrated daggers were in hand as the hooded men approached her.
A silver-tipped arrow caught one of the hooded men dead center in the face. Rivyen targeted another man and took him down before he made another step toward Lyndasia.
Muffled thumps from heavy boots alerted the Yuul. Ama’yen hauled roughly on her reins, stopping her charge. She moved around in her saddle to face the rush of warriors coming from behind them. Waving her hands back and forth in unique movements, she gathered her magical energies.
A blast of red stars shot from the Sorceress’ hands, ripping two more hooded men off their feet and into the river. The two ex-Wyvernguard with Rivyen ran ahead and engaged the assassins charging Lyndasia.
A scream came as two arrows peppered the man with the wounded horse. He collapsed in a heap under its feet.
Scars shouted to the frantic man holding on to the bridge’s post. “Take my hand! Come on, hurry!”
“I am slipping! I…I…Grab me!”
Ama’yen screamed as she grappled with two of the hooded men who were trying to pull her off her horse.
“Please, Scars! You have to grab me first. I cannot let the post go or I will fall i–“
“–Take my hand now! Do it!” Scars screamed in anger.
Three men had gotten past the ex-Wyvernguard and were trying to corner Lyndasia. She outmaneuvered them and jumped to the bridge railing to get the “higher-ground advantage” on her attackers. One of them made a grab for her legs, but yelped as she scored a blade strike along his neck and shoulder.
Rivyen fired again, taking one down with a shot to his thigh, but his next arrow flew past. The last man took advantage, lunged forward and impaled her threw the hip. Her scream pierced the valley and echoed louder than the thunderclaps of the storm.
Ama’yen’s scream followed Lyndasia’s as she was pulled free of her saddle.
Scars looked the man in the eyes, shook his head and stood back on his feet. He raced to help the desperate mage. The Flohki removed his broadsword and charged the men wrestling with Ama’yen.
The first man fell hard as Scars’ blade took off his left leg cleanly. The sword continued its arch and embedded in the side of the man next to him. Before the man reacted, Scars whirled around to plunge a dagger held in his right hand into the man’s neck. Blood exploded from the man’s mouth and sprayed over the remaining hooded man and the sorceress.
He leaped at Scars and plowed him backwards. They rolled along the ground, pummeling each other.
Suddenly the hooded man was lifted off Scars as Rivyen swept him up in arms and threw the man over the railing.
“GET ON YOUR HORSES! WE HAVE TO GET HER HELP!” The man screamed. Behind him, barely able to keep herself on the saddle, Lyndasia held onto the scimitar which was still in her side. She was shaking and visibly pale.
Scars leaped to his feet and glanced back down the bridge. He saw only the wounded horse and bodies laid sprawled on the wood. No one remained clinging to the post.
In the gray light of the predawn hours, Tal had the reins of the last two horses that were being used by Ama’yen’s party leaving for Aberrisc. He guided them onto the wooden platform leading from the pier to the wooden skiff. They resisted and shied away from the rocking of the boat, but he coaxed and cooed to calm them down. He tied them to the railing with the others and walked back to the pier.
Standing next to Ama’yen and Scars stood a cluster of hired soldiers who would be their escort on the mainland. The men had similar uniforms — dark clothes, leather coats and swords scabbarded at their sides. It was obvious they still considered themselves Wyvernguards in spite of the disbandment of the City Guard over a year ago. They talked amongst themselves, keeping aloof from the strange humanoids.
Some of the outside braziers had been lit along the dock. Plumes of thick fog surrounded the beach head and blanketed everything in a thick haze. A summer storm had developed earlier and the remnants still harassed their island. It would also not make for a smooth trip to shore, but he wanted them to start as soon as possible on their mission. He had to know if this prophecy was legitimate and if they were finally on the right track.
High winds from the sea buffeted Rivyen and Lyndasia as they exited together through the Compound’s doors. They held hands as they approached. The couple had stopped trying to hide their relationship as before. He was happy for them, but not sure their bond would last due to Rivyen’s heritage and his obsessive pursuit of power. Time would tell.
“Good morn,” Tal greeted them.
“It is such an ugly hour. I hope the horses make the trip.” Rivyen grumbled.
Lyndasia bumped her shoulder into him. “Pay no mind to the grouch, Master Tal. I, for one, am excited about this trip. It is about time we make some progress!”
“Yes, yes. That was what you reasoned as your excuse to disobey my specific instructions and helped LLasher raid the slave quarry. Correct? Rush blindly forward. We needed to make progress.” He scolded, but the tone was not harsh as the words.
She averted her eyes as Rivyen stepped in. “Where is LLasher anyway? We need to get going in case this storm worsens after all.”
“I have not informed LLasher about the Seyde. He will not be joining you. And…I have decided to give him some other objectives.”
Rivyen nodded. “So, you are punishing him as well for his raid, you mean.”
“Punishment is for wrong doing. He did something right. However, he did not do it with the right intentions or the right methods. I need level-headed leaders, not emotional children in our battle with the Beleardea and The Bleeding Crown.” This time his tone had grown terse and in volume.
The wind picked up and howled . It broke the tension and Lyndasia jumped at a change in topic. “Do you really think she knows where this Mescarne place is? Lei Lines that only she can sense and follow…Seems rather insane.”
Rivyen scoffed. “No more insane than a silver crown that attacks and controls a person for over a year. Or not more insane than the idea of a half-human, half-bird male fighting alongside a half-cat, half-woman. All has come to existence, yet we would not have believed these ideas a year or two ago.”
“I do believe she will find the Lei Lines and lead us to our answers. She has proven herself of good heart and she has a stake in this as well. If she can get back to Aberrisc, she can see her twin brothers, her only family.” Tal stated.
One of the soldiers, stout and stone-faced, marched over to the group. He had black, wet hair and a patchy beard. “The first rays are soon to come, sir, uh, Master Crowan. If you want to go under the cover of darkness and fog, we should set sail now.”
“Thank you, Private Sloan. I will follow your judgment. You may leave at your discretion after your men place the last load of supplies. Please be sure that your men keep a vigilant eye out for Quietus spies and patrols along the main roads. The Ebon Queen has made provisions. No doubt she has also employed the resources of the Beleardea too. If possible avoid major cities and trade routes. Also I will double your payment if you ensure that what may occur or seen on this journey stay with your men. They cannot confide with anyone what you encounter. Can I count on your seeing to that?”
“Indeed. The payment will seal it, but these men have nothing to call theirs after losing their city appointments. They will not have time or inclination to gossip.” Sloan answered.
“Then I bid everyone good-bye and productive hunting,” he stopped and faced Rivyen. “Get word back to me as soon as you get any confirmation for Taliah’s Prophecy.”
A light rap on Tal’s chamber door announced a surprise visitor. “One second while I finish.”
There was no answer back.
He focused back on the pages of prophecy then penned some notes next name he dissected from the passages.
Who were these people and why were they chosen? Are the Gods involved or does fate move all of us as pawns in a game of chance and death?
The knuckle rap again.
“Yes, come now.”
It opened and LLasher rushed in, his lips pressed tight. The man was beat red from restraint.
“You are earlier than I expected. Good morn.”
“Master Tal, is it true that Rivyen and the others have gone somewhere during the storm? Why? Where?”
“Please relax. Sit and we can discuss this,” he chided the Camiyaan, pointing at the chair before Tal’s work desk.
LLasher sighed but relented. He sat with obvious impatience.
“Two nights ago, Seeress Taliah performed a ceremony called a Blood Seyde. It is an intense use of her visionary powers. With the help of the blood, she links to the other side and sometimes gets answers for us. The ritual was very productive…or at least it seems to have been. I spoke with Rivyen and the others in order to get them to start a search for positive confirmation that we are on the right path here–“
“–But you are not including me?”
“True. I have decided to redirect your energies in a different path to help with other questions that I need resolved.”
LLasher bolted to his feet. “NO! You are only keeping me back because I went against your decision about the quarry. You are angry with me and this is some sort of…”
“Punishment? Yes, in some ways I can understand how it could be construed as such.”
“I knew it!”
The Master kept his emotions in check as well as his voice. “However, I hope this is a period of growth and introspection. LLasher, you are very capable of many things and actions. I see you having a powerful position here in the future.”
“You do not trust me, right? You and Rivyen are constantly judging me and anything I say.”
“In order for us to stop The Bleeding Crown and to rescue Letandra, we have to hit back with a focused strike at their weaknesses. If you let your emotions and your own guilt keep spinning you in every direction like a child’s toy top, then you will never be fully useful to our cause.”
LLasher’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He had no words to respond and sat back down in the chair.
“Take this time to delve into what has happened. Tear apart your memories, your actions and your history with Letandra and Taihven. Answer the burning questions inside that you feel — answer how you are to blame for what happened to them. Give yourself the honest truth and prove once and for all why you are to blame.”
“So…you blame me too then?” he mumbled, facing to the side and not meeting Tal’s eyes.
“No. I do not personally blame you. No one in the Order blames you. None of us were there other than her friends and they do not blame you. In fact, the only person judging your every action is you. We cannot absolve you of this shame. But by freeing yourself of this supposed guilt, you can start making sound decisions and contributions here. You are so set on proving yourself and getting her free, you threw away the lives of the two ex-Wyvernguard. You risked our own plans getting back to the Ebon Queen in your rashness. Then before I can deal with that, you convince yourself and Lyndasia to attack the slave quarry. That put your life and hers in serious jeopardy. What would have happened to you or her if either of you had been captured? Do you really think you could have stopped The Bleeding Crown from finding out what we need and plan?”
He took a breath, folded his arms across chest and leaned back in his leather chair. LLasher bowed his head down and stared at the stub of his left arm. “She is still in there.”
“Letandra is still inside. Yes, I see her actions and the atrocities, but she is fighting him…It. The day he killed Taihven and took her, she had a chance to kill us right then. But I saw it. I saw HER. A single tear escaped her eye and trailed down her cheek. She is in there and she knows she killed her own brother. I have to find a way to free her. I failed that day to–“
“–You were not alone and you did nothing wrong. You know this. Taihven did not know. Letandra and her friends did not know. Even Chroyanne Cros’seau did not know. The Bleeding Crown fooled and used them all to get what it wanted. By accepting this mistake and learning from it, we can all move forward and take steps to stop it from escalating.”
“What if the only way to stop The Bleeding Crown will be to kill her? I cannot do it. You understand that right? I love her! I do not have it in me to kill her no matter the cost.”
Tal did sympathize with the man and he could understand the guilt, but he needed LLasher. The Order was small and being whittled down by the Ebon Queen’s efforts. “I am not asking for you to kill her. I am asking you to help me find a way to end this and bring her out. Remember Taliah asked you before if you were willing to fight for her soul? Has that answer changed?”
LLasher shook his head.
“Then take the time to find your answers and heal. Get yourself straight. I need you now and I need you free from these negative emotions that are dictating your decisions.”
The Camiyaan nodded, but did not answer. He crossed the chamber, leaving without answering or saying another word.
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Tal hesitated, his knuckles inches above the wooden door. He did not want to give the pair false hope but at the same time, Taliah did have a prophetic vision of a possible connection to their homeland.
I can only offer them the facts that were presented. It will be up to them how they face it, whether to believe or doubt is really their individual right.
He straightened his shoulders, confident in his decision and how he would proceed. First, he rapped on Scars’ door. There was no reply or sound. It was approaching late evening, perhaps the Flohki retired for the night.
The door abruptly opened as if the halfman had been there all along. “Master Tal?” His voice was a smooth tenor.
The half-seagull and half-man creature eyed him standing in the faint candlelight. His white feathered head was marred by a scar lacing down the right-side and his beak broken off at the tip. In striking contrast, his chest, arms and shoulders were a complex pattern of scars, thus how his name was inspired. He had never talked about his past or how his injuries came about, only that he was a tested, military veteran for his kind.
“Scars, I am sorry for the late hour, but would you mind joining me for an important discussion?”
He nodded and joined Tal immediately in the hallway. They walked silently together down the corridor. The Flohki was not a talkative type, down-to-business and never hesitant to assist. Master Tal liked him very much and appreciated the character he had. It was likely a part of the militant-upbringing of their kind, but there was added a quiet nobility about the creature. He was proud, yet humbled and earnest. Sometimes, Tal even sensed a shadow of shame.
Something behind his eyes shows me quiet courage and accepted guilt. An odd pairing that bears learning more of one day. Yet, he is not ready to reveal that.
Bare light illuminates around Ama’yen’s door. She was another half-man creature but also had a subtlety and grace about her. Half-feline and half-woman. She was said to be a powerful sorceress in her home world of Aberrisc.
Ama’yen came to the door, wrapped in a light yellow cloth, semi-transparent in the light from her room. Her long black hair was swept over her slightly pointed ears and braided on one side. A circlet of silver and emerald gems on her forehead brought out the majestic green of her feline eyes. Tal was a bit thrown off by the sudden attractive creature standing before him and her attire did not necessarily mean she was retiring for the night.
“Uh…sorry, I do not mean to disturb you, but I have important information. I have learned of some points of interest for the two of you. Were you in the middle of something?” He asked, averting his eyes carefully from the form beneath the yellow wrappings.
“Nothing of importance. May I fetch a robe first? Are we going somewhere or do you wish to enter here?” The Yuul woman asked. There was no embarrassment in her voice.
He tried to match that. “Once you are ready, could the three of us talk in your room?”
She agreed and shut the door. The pair of men waited again in silence in the hallway. The compound was quiet in the evenings and for the most part there were very few sounds echoing in the halls.
“Please come in.” The voice muffled by the door.
Ama’yen was now clothed in a gray and white robe with thick fur lining the edges. She swung the door open, welcoming them to enter her small but charming room. A lit fireplace warmed the chamber. She ushered them over to a wooden, round table that sat four in one corner. On it, a historical tome was laid open before one chair.
“I was reading and studying a book from your downstairs library. It has maps of the continents surrounding Tayneva. Fascin-cintaring.” She stuttered on the last word.
Tal helped her with it. “Fascinating.” He smiled, hoping she would understand he meant to help and not mock her.
“Ah. Thank you.”
“You are a quick learner and you have already developed a large vocabulary.”
She pulled out the two chairs for them before returning to her chair.
Tal started. “Last night Taliah, our Blood Seeress, entered a Seyde. A Blood Seyde. It can be tricky and taxing on her physically, but we both felt it was a necessary gamble. We wanted to see if she could learn more information on what we can do to stop The Bleeding Crown. That artifact’s power has grown immensely and I feared we were running out of time.”
“Letandra may also be facing a dire outcome the longer it has control of her. When The Bleeding Crown abandoned Chroyanne she disintegrated,” Scars interrupted.
Tal nodded in agreement. “Indeed. The Seyde proved me correct, we are in a race against time. However, it also revealed some incredible predictions to her. Per her vision, The Bleeding Crown is somehow preparing to call forth from the expanse of the In-Between, the Etohlosii. These are artifacts similar to The Bleeding Crown. They are imbued with the latent remains of an ancient eldritch god known as ARa Etohl. If the hosts owning the three other Etohlosii reach our plane and reunite with The Bleeding Crown, then ARa Etohl will be resurrected. This cannot happen or all life on every plane of existence will be extinguished.”
While Master Tal could not read the Flohki’s reactions well, he could see that his information had Ama’yen’s rapt attention.
“Several names were given to us through her vision in the Seyde. These are individuals that will help us in one way or another rescue Letendre from The Bleeding Crown and stop her from reuniting the Etohlosii. We do not have all the details of who they are or where to find them yet, but she is confident of at least one name. Someone known as Khedarr of Aberrisc.”
Ama’yen gasped, her eyes bulged.
“How is that possible?” Scars blurted.
“We are not sure, but Taliah said that some of our answers lie in Aberrisc and with this person known as Khedarr.”
The Yuul stood, backed away from the table, shaking her head. “No! We are locked out. Cut off from our homelands!”
“Taliah was told that a key connection was to locate something known as Mescarne. Somehow and in some fashion, this Mescarne exists on all planes of the In-Between. If you find it, then you can cross over to any world at will.”
“That is why you come to us?” She stiffly faced the fireplace, her arms folded tight over her chest, trembling as if the fire was no longer capable of warming her.
“Yes. First I need you to think of how we — or perhaps the two of you — might locate this Mescarne. Second, if you can go back, you would have the best chance of finding–“
“–Khedarr is a necromancer!” Her words were low but hit Tal like a hammer.
“A MAGE OF DEATH?”
She nodded glumly. “He was ousted from our lands by my father for his tainted practices. However, we did contact him when LLasher was near death. His ungodly skills have greatly improved. I still do not condone his research into the forbidden sorceries of the dead.” Ama’yen looked back over her shoulder, locking eyes with Tal to judge his reaction to her words.
Scars added, “He might even be dead by now. When we had to ask for his help with Mending LLasher. He only agreed if we took him back to her homeland, the Fhey Ras Isles. The Quietus had his wife and children enslaved. Khedarr swore he was somehow going to rescue them.”
“When Chroyanne left, who assumed power until she returned?” Tal asked.
Scars shrugged. “However, in my opinion, in contrast to his questionable research, this Khedarr did seem of honorable intent. If Taliah has received credible knowledge from this prophecy, then I would not suspect it would send us to look for someone who was already dead, would it?” Scars asked Tal.
“It does not seem likely that it would. The whole thing is moot if we do not have a way to find Mescarne. Have either of you been to the Mescarne in your world?”
Both shook their heads. Ama’yen said, “I have heard of the continent, but few have found their way there and even fewer return.”
They sat together, wrestling with the possibilities in their heads.
“If I remember right,” Ama’yen started, then paused in thought. Finally she said, “I believe Letandra confided in me that Taihven believed he had been brought to Mescarne. One time in one of his episodes. Yes, in fact, I remember now that he had gone back and was able to speak somehow with his dead father!”
“Did he give you any details about the land?”
“I am trying to remember now. It has been some time. Sorry.”
She crossed back to the table but continued to stand, a finger tapping at her chin.
“While I am not recalling any solid details, my knowledge of your language may be hampering me. He might have mentioned a temple. A temple of stone at the heart of a desert. I think…” She tapped again at her chin with her finger. Tal noted that each painted and jeweled fingernail was filed to a sharp point.
“Yes, yes. I think I can.” Mostly she spoke to herself, but then she faced Master Tal. “If this temple and Mescarne are in each of the planes, my guess is that the Lei Lines all intersect there.”
“Lei Lines?” Scars asked before Tal could.
“Powerful waves of magical energies that crisscross every plane. In my world, I had an acute sense of them and their location. Perhaps it is due to my heritage, but in Aberrisc we studied and used the Lei Lines to increase our powers and spells. Here I definitely sense the Lei Lines but not as clear as when I was home. If we could track one of the major branches of Lei Lines, I trust it will take us to Mescarne.”
Scars studied the Yuul. “Do you have any sense of how far away they might be?”
She closed her eyes and placed her hands on the table. Her breathing went deep and slowed down into a rhythmic even pace. A soft purring sound came from deep within her chest.
Moments later. “Several lines are near to us, but a major vein as I am wanting to follow is quite the distance away and…deep into Tayneva.”
Tal nodded. To be discovered or captured on the continent would mean arrest and possible execution since they were labeled traitors. As he considered the weight of the mission, Scars interrupted his inner debate.
“When can we go, Master Tal?” Scars asked.
“Would you and Ama’yen then agree to find the temple? I know I am asking much of you. It may mean possibly your lives or possibly the only way back to your families and kind.”
“This fight is ours as well. Not just for the fallen king, our friend and his sister, but for the expanse of the In-Between!”
“Alright. Gather your items and what you want with you for the trip…home. In the morning, I will have Master Rivyen and Lyndasia go with you. If we can validate that part of her prophecy then I have faith you will find Khedarr alive and with our answers on how we can save Letandra and stop The Bleeding Crown.”
Taliah laid with her back to the wall, propped up by pillows. Master Tal Crowan and Rivyen sat in chairs on either side of her bed.
“I know that this is asking much of you and you are in dire need to rest after your Seyde, but I feel time is of the essence,” Tal said as he reached out and scooped up her hands in his.
“It is,” she whispered.
“I have so many questions. I am not sure what is the proper order to start. Perhaps you should begin with what you know?”
She sighed and shook her head. Tears mixed with blackish brown ichor which stained her cheeks. Fresh streaks continued. Ever since the Seyde the grotesque tears would not stop even when she was calm. All she could do was wipe at her face to clean it every so often. Tal had never seen this kind of side effect from a Blood Seyde before.
“There were four receptacles that imprisoned the Broken God, ARa Etohl, and ended his reign of destruction eons ago, in a time before time. These artifacts are known as the Etohlosii: The Command Orb, The Deity Staff, The Magnus Cuirass and The Bleeding Crown.”
Rivyen interrupted, “That Orb! It played a part in the destruction of our realm and the death of my people!” His wavered toward the end.
Taliah turned and even though she could not see him, she sensed his aura as it washed over her. It was full of rage and despair.
It is happening all over again. All over again! His thoughts floated to her within the aura. The terror in him was building.
“These items were imprisoned…well, they were in the care of a secret order of warrior monks, the LaVoshka. They had the items secreted away and magically protected for several generations. However, human greed combined with the fact that time erodes memories, the monks grew complacent. The Etohlosii somehow broke through the barriers to reach out and find willing volunteers.
I witnessed one such escape. They used a desperate brother and sister who were trying to save their mother. Anyway, the enchantments were dispelled and the items retrieved, separated and freed upon various realms.”
“We know that The Bleeding Crown has some sort of intelligence — LLasher and the others contend that King Taihven verbally communicated with it as he tried to stop Letandra’s possession. So, if all four of these items possess such intelligence…” Tal stopped and tried to put the puzzle pieces together inside his mind.
She went on, “The greatest threat we are facing is that The Bleeding Crown and the other Etohlosii are symbiotic in nature. In other words, they grow stronger with each other. Thus, The Bleeding Crown is calling out to the other three to join it.”
Rivyen grimaced and rubbed his hand through his hair. “If we cannot beat one of these Etohlosii, what will it be like with all four?”
“That is not the real question,” Tal interjected. “All of the Etohlosii contain a part of the Ancient Vile God. This, your answer: All of them together will restore ARa Etohl.”
“We would be at the center of death and ruin to the entire span of universe,.” Rivyen whispered, his voice low in awe and dread.
“I think that is why Letandra erected that barrier of storms. She is hiding her activities so as to not be stopped. The only way for her to contact the other Etohlosii is through powerful summoning magic. To power it, she is having fountains made,” she said.
“Fountains?” Tal asked, confused.
“Yes. She intends to use human sacrifice and the fountains are there to collect their spilt blood. Each time she uses the fountains to call out in the In-Between, it will send out some sort of message in a ripple pattern. You know like when you throw a rock into a pond. Sooner or later, her wave will reach the individual Etohlosii.”
Suddenly Taliah trembled with a chill. Her face grew pale. “I do not feel well at all. But, there is so much more I…I have to give you.”
“It is alright, I will be–“
“–NO! You do not fully understand. We have a way to protect ourselves and even stop The Bleeding Crown, but we are in a race now. The Etohlosii will have to find their own hosts and find a way to come here. It will not be easy or quick, but mark that they are coming.”
She collapsed, quivering and sobbing as her body gave out. She fainted, falling back into unconsciousness.
Tal Crowan and Rivyen sat together at a massive stone table, this was the Order’s War Room. Papers fluttered a bit in the wind. Neither man looked at the paperwork or at the other. They were lost in their worries, pensive and anxious over what they had witnessed and what they heard.
Finally, Tal focused on the words of prophecy before him. The words were jumbled, some sentences did not even go together but that was the way with prophecies. He had never seen other prophets like Taliah, but he had read plenty of religious works to understand their patterns and the ways these predictions had a way of coming true. They only made sense to those that were enlightened enough to search them out or they were clear to those that lived past the verses of fortune.
There was a knock at the doorway. Cam Bahdrea stood patiently waiting for their attention.
“What is it, child?”
“The Seeress has awakened again and asks for you. I have also brought the medicated Brulla you asked for, Master Crowan.” She held a small tray with three serving cups and a clay pitcher.
“Lead us in then.”
Moments later they stood again in the room with Taliah. The bloody tears had dried up and her cheeks were wiped clean for good.
“Evening, Taliah.” Tal greeted her. He took the tray from Cam Bahdrea and dismissed her.
“Thank you. I wanted to answer more of your questions now. I think I told you before, but I have to warn you again that we are in a race of time.”
“Yes, you did mention that before.” Rivyen remarked..
Tal crossed the room with the tray then poured a hot cup of Brulla for her. He offered it to her. “I had them add some healing elements to it. Drink, then continue,” he insisted. He held a cup out to Rivyen, but he declined.
He then sat down beside her bed while Rivyen remained by one of the windows across the room.
“At the end, as I was coming back out of the Seyde, a voice bombarded my mind with names and faces. There were some I knew, others were strangers, some not even human!” Taliah said, shaking her head to clear away the cobwebs like one does coming out of a dream.
“Yes. I made note of the names I heard you say.” He unrolled a parchment and read over his notes. He then read aloud, “Khedarr, Saiya Moi, Rhenden Vox, Kaydaa, Ayreth, Shei, Vii and Broenef Crosseau.”
“There are many names or maybe they are places mentioned inside the…the prophetic vision you were given,” Rivyen said from his place by the window. He could not hide his apprehension in putting faith in her words or her premonition.
“The important thing for us will be to decipher these words and names, their meaning so we know where first to put our energies. Prophecies are like riddles and can be easily misunderstood or misinterpreted. It is going to take some time to interpret and organize what was written down into some logical order,” Tal replied.
Talia waved her hands in the air. “Yes, clearly. But I was given knowledge about two of the names to start us off. We need to free the woman called Saiya Moi, she is a direct link to the LaVoshka and she will have more answers for us. She is imprisoned by the Beleardea.
“The other, well you see, some of the names are not chosen from our realm. One is the name of someone who will help us solve how to free Letandra. His name is Khedarr…of Aberrisc!”
Tal gasped as the words sunk in. “In order to free our world from The Bleeding Crown, we have to find a way back through to Taihven’s alternate reality? Back into the Chaos Plane?”
“The same voice insisted there is only one place, known only as Mescarne and it exists in every plane of existence, somewhere in every realm. If you walk into Mescarne, you can walk–“
“–walk through the Door of Fates! Those words are in your prophecy! I saw it in Master Tal’s notes,” Rivyen shouted, interrupting her in his excitement. “If any of those names prove to be actual people, then your vision may just hold truth.”
“Perhaps Scars or Ama’yen will be able to tell us if they have knowledge of this place Mescarne,” Tal stood and pressed with hands to straighten out the folds of his long robe. “We now have some key steps to take. Get some rest now. Thank you for all that you have done here tonight. You have served the Order well. Your vision may have given us the gateway to get our friends back home. And a way to find answers and allies.”
Brand new year so it seemed a good time to report my current work and what I hoped to produce in the next year or so.
The Flight Of The Dirithi — This new original story centers around Princess Jueneva, an orphan, half-dragon girl as she attempts to avenge what was stolen from her family. I have completed the first book in the series but I am in the editing mode stage and adding to the draft. This adventure may be broken down into five novels. We’ll see, but I am really enjoying it and anxious to see how this story comes to life! I expect this will be out for you in this next couple months.
With Malice: A Horror & Crime Fiction Literary Magazine— This is a group effort of a dozen or so horror and crime fiction writers that I have gathered to do a compilation piece each quarter this year. We will be doing about 5 short stories each edition as well as Author Bios, an in depth Author Interview and will have unique horror images, poems and illustrations! Exciting stuff!!!
Wyvernshield #3 — This is the continuation of the Wyvernshield series surrounding Princess — I mean, the new Ebon Queen Letandra and heart-wrenching story in The Bleeding Crown. This time the main character will be the charismatic, ex-slaver LLasher as he is joined in his rescue attempt by Scars, Ama’yen and other new heroes! I wanted to break this large conclusion down into four smaller novels so you readers didn’t have to wait much longer for your answers. In other words, it takes a long time to write and edit 400 or so pages. The first part of four will hopefully be out the second or third quarter this year.
I Still Burn — I am introducing a new horror story centered on siblings, Rylund and Stephanie, who recently lost their parents in a horrific tragedy. As they adapt to their new lives with their drunk uncle and Rylund’s blindness, a whole new danger presents itself. I will be publishing the first few chapters to this novel in the With Malice Magazine issues. Then I produce the whole complete story next year.
Elude #2 (?!) — That’s right! A possible sequel to my Elude Series. A crazy idea hit me and will not leave my head so be prepared for Vicente Vargas to come out from hiding in Witness Protection and be in an exciting new horror story sometime in 2025.
As you can see, there’s plenty of new stories and writing coming your way!
** This year will be Dirithi #1, Wyvernshield #1 of 4, With Malice Edition #1 through #4.
** In 2024, Dirithi #2 , Wyvernshield #2 and #3 of 4, I Still Burn. I may do a fantasy literary magazine if With Malice is successful.
** And in 2025, Elude the Sequel will start among other projects by then! Whew!!
I also wanted to do a quick shout out for my father’s new work — he’s completed a brand new prequel to The Hidden! If you enjoyed the Predator series latest movie PREY, then you’ll love The Hidden: TRIBES! Look for this coming to Amazon & Kindle in the next couple months.
One last comment: For those of you who have read my last blog, January Writing Challenge, you’ll be happy to know that I am way over my quota of 300 a day (total 2400 words). I am at 3,400! Thanks to all of you who have shown support and interests!
This year has sure had it’s share of ups and downs for me, like I’m sure most of you can relate. While it was not as difficult and tumultuous as 2020 and 2021, I had more health concerns and some financial set backs.
This year coming up I want to meet head on and see if I can make some headway into my writing production. Currently I have four maybe five story lines fighting for air in my head! Yes, that sort of chaos and confusion does get very annoying to live with! You see, when I as a writer get inspired, the idea remains there in the back of my head almost like a petulant child. They stand with their arms crossed, one foot tapping and their bottom lip pouting — impatient and demanding freedom to grow up and to show what they can do. I love all my book children and want them all of course to shine but honestly, my health has not recovered to what it was prior to my stroke and I fall ill a lot easier than ever before. Grant it, I am getting older whch does play a part, too.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say, is I really want to get more stories out there (out of my head!) and into the world and the only way I can do that is by working harder. As someone once told me “own my stroke and stop making excuses with it”!
Next year I’ll also be producing, editing, writing and publishing my first ever literary magazine, With Malice! That’s exciting and hopefully it brings in more engagement with my work. It’s definitely tough to be motivated to write when you’ve got over a dozen books but haven’t sold more than a dozen copies in one year!! More than anything it’s getting reader’s attentions — all my work has gotten 4.5 to 5 star reviews so it’s not the content. Creating ads and paying for them is not investing, it’s more like gambling with money you don’t have and paying someone’s paying attention! With this magazine I’ll be bringing over a dozen other writers to my readers attention and they’ll be bringing my work to their reader’s attention! Win win!! Be on the lookout for those issues starting this March—one per quarter.
Have any of you bought something of mine? What attracted you to it? If you haven’t (no judgment or bad feelings), what has turned you off from doing so? I’m looking for some honest insight and maybe a direction to get better results. Any comments or feedback are highly welcome and appreciated.
With that all said, my goal or what I’m thinking of is I’m going to try and challenge myself and put it out there that everyday in January I’m going to write at least 300 words every day. Now I know 300 doesn’t sound too impressive but when you figure how much goes on all the time in your daily life…So I’m making a stand to at least getting it done every day no matter what…Oyyy putting the words and goal to print for all to see and judge — now that’s scary!
Of course there will be days when I will go for more and may write a 1000 but there will be days too that I make just my minimum. I’m hoping IF this challenge comes through I can do it for February! Who knows?!
I will also try to edit and publish some of that work for you guys too as “fresh content blogs”.
31 days x 300 words = 9,300 total. 12 months x 9300 = 111, 600!! (That’s maybe two books worth!!)
As of this post I’ll have done 24 posts this year. Not too shabby—last couple years I was down to like 10 blogs and that’s very dismal to me. The Fresh Content blogs have seemed to be a hit so also keep a lookout for more coming up this next year!!
Thanks to everyone who supports this blog and my work — maybe together we can truly create something special!!
by Stephen King — a Coming of Age Dark Fantasy Novel
Released on September 6, 2022 — 608 pages
Being myself an avid fantasy reader and writer, this was a book I knew I had to read. The fact that I am a huge Stephen King fan is no secret, however, his fantasy works have not always been a huge hit for me. While I loved the novel, The Eyes of The Dragon, I didn’t find the Gunslinger series as satisfying. This novel has more of a feel and story tone similar to his work, The Talisman (it’s been ages since I’ve read this one, but I did enjoy it when I read it in the 90s).
Legendary storyteller Stephen King goes into the deepest well of his imagination in this spellbinding novel about a seventeen-year-old boy who inherits the keys to a parallel world where good and evil are at war, and the stakes could not be higher—for that world or ours.
The story revolves around a seventeen-year-old boy, Charlie Reade and an eclectic, elderly man, Mr. Bowditch and his German shepherd dog, Radar. Told through Charlie’s eyes, his long quest begins on the fated night when his mother dies tragically and his father plummets into a drunken stupor. In this tale, King loosely weaves in key elements of the classic Grimm fairy tales with the modern issues that society faces today.
One of King’s super powers, or given the topic, I should say his magic ability as a writer is his character portrayals. He finds a way to not only bring unique and memorable characters but makes them instantly relatable. They walk into your life like old friends and by the end of the work, you know you are going to miss them afterwards! Charlie and Mr. Bowditch are fine examples of this.
One of King’s areas of opportunity would be getting into the actual plot or reason for the story. Like in his book, Billy Summers, it takes about half the novel for the true story to begin. Although I did enjoy the story events and the character build up, King needs to find a way to “get to it” faster — several other book reviews online also listed this as a drawback and that he lost their interests by not bringing the reader to the heart of the work sooner.
The fantasy is well constructed and solid world-building aspects. The curse upon the land tugs at your emotions and the dungeon sequences makes you cringe then shout in glee. Overall, he gives a respectful nod to the past fairy tales and produces for his readers, an entertaining, modern take on fairy tales.
The narration is done masterfully by Seth Numrich, a renown broadway/television actor and by Stephen King who voices Mr. Bowditch. The performance of the story is brought to life by Numrich’s accents and theatre skills. An awesome play in your ears in other words.
In spite of the duration it takes to get to the true focus of the tale he is telling, this is a gem for any reader and a classic piece by Stephen King. Don’t pick up this 600+ page work expecting an all out fast pace race to the end, but sit down in your favorite chair and delve into the story, enjoying it like you would a leisure walk through the woods on a nice, Autumn day. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! For rating purposes, I would score this 4.25 of 5.
Salty sweat dripped endlessly down LLasher’s forehead and into his eyes. The bandana wrapped around his head was thoroughly soaked. His legs clenched beneath, doing the majority of the work, as he hauled himself up one knot at a time along his rough, hemp rope.
A silhouette peered over the cliffside lip. “You are almost there!” Lyndasia called down.
“I know, I know. I lost my arm, not my eyes!” he snapped back at her. “The things I am asked to do. Being a criminal was so much easier!”
Only her laughter in response drifted down to him.
Finally he crawled up and over the edge, rolled and laid on his back, his sides heaving. Lyndasia laughed and punched his shoulder good-naturedly. She rolled up to her knees, stood then offered him a hand to get to his own feet. “I bet you sat like a fat slug in your cabin on the ship. Just ordered all your crew to do your dirty work. And do you know what that is called, my friend?”
“What?” he snapped at her. She was beautiful, but her humor was as usual mocking. Her long black dreadlocks banded together with green metal rings cascaded down over her right shoulder. She had tan and black studded leather and a pair of short swords scabbarded at her sides. Her brown eyes sparkled with mirth and energy.
“That is what they call Koyo’rah.”
He stared at her, not understanding her words and lost to her meaning.
“Koyo’rah. Another word for what you call karma.”
LLasher had to chuckle at the unexpected answer. She had him dead to rights. It was the standard practice for a slaver captain to remain on board while the Hunting Crews went out and brought back their quarries.
A flash of memory came to him. Faces of young men, barely past their first ten years of life, looking at him with wet cheeks and snot dripping from their noses. They were captured and stripped from their families. Young, strong and still at an age that they could be broken into fine, obedient slaves.
LLasher’s good humor dried up. Sudden shame over the ugliness of what he had brought upon the world. How many families did he split up? How many lives was he responsible for? Koyo’rah indeed.
Lyndasia must have seen the passing emotions and expressions across his face. “Sorry. Are you alright? Did I stir something up?”
“Let us just see what good we can do here today.”
She eyed him but decided to not continue the subject.
Changing the topic, she pointed down in the valley below. Today’s mission was due to a bit of the limited information found in the messenger bag LLasher and Rivyen had retrieved at Adventdawn. Letandra had opened mines. Their true purpose was not clear. “There are roughly four guard towers, manned with minimal men. On the ground floor and in the mines themselves I found they are heavily guarded but there is a window of time when they switch out that we could take advantage of.”
“Who are these guards?”
“Most appear to be hired mercenaries or Dovvish Clan Barbarians. No one that seemed beyond my men’s abilities to overcome. Inside the mines are the majority of the slaves. They work all day and into part of the night. Seems the Queen has stiff penalties for failure to meet her quantity demands.”
Lyndasia plucked out his spyglass from his belt and pointed at a ridge on the western side of the valley. He brought the wood and metal tube up to see a construct with a row of fashioned nooses. Some were occupied and the bodies were being cleaned by flocks of crows.
“Some of them are slaves, some of them are guards,” Lyndasia stated. “I understand your reasoning to be here, but you have to understand why Rivyen also vetoed the idea.”
“He does not like to take risks or chances. That is not my style and, honestly, we are running out of time. She is gaining too much power and resources. I am not even sure we can take Letandra on at this point.”
LLasher tugged at his bandoleer of throwing hatchets and made sure they were secure across his chest.
“He sees that. But what he sees and you do not is that we have a long struggle here. He is in it for the long haul and when you are short-handed, it is not wise to bet against the odds working in your favor.”
He faced her, anger in his eyes. “If this is how you feel, then why are you here? I do not need babysitting and it is sure damn too late to try and talk me out of this.”
She stepped back a step, surprised by his sudden temper. “No. I am not here to talk you out of it, I am here to back you up. Look, you and I are more similar than you would think. Tal and Rivyen plan, organize and analyze every detail, but on the actual battlefield, those plans are often thrown out. The littlest items throw everything off. I agree with you on this — stopping the mines. We know whatever she is doing behind the Wall, she somehow needs this mine. She does not know yet we know about it.”
“Exactly! If we take away the key parts of her plans, then we can make progress in other areas. All we have been doing is playing catch-up. We are the outlaws now. We are trapped off the coast and we have no inkling of her actions behind those stupid storms. We are losing. And…I am losing Letandra.”
Lyndasia reached out and placed her hand on his arm and squeezed. “Today, we are here and we are not being idle, alright?”
He coughed into his hand, trying to hide how emotional he was getting. Changing directions, he said, “How many do we have and what are we up against?”
She answered, “There are a dozen men along the perimeter, patrolling and looking for any trouble inside and outside the quarry. In the pit with the slave miners, there are at least two armed foremen with each cluster. Clusters vary based on the area they are working. The most accounted for by my spies in a cluster was two dozen which had double the foremen.”
She paused and pulled him close to lean to the right then pointed her finger to show him rows of wooden cages. “The pens have hyenas. They are not fed for days. This is another facet to stop slave uprisings. If the hyenas are freed, they would swarm and shred anyone unlucky enough to be near.”
“We have fourteen archers and two teams of dagger-monks. Beross upon my request graced us with several potions that will put to sleep the animals. We will release–“
“–Why not just have your archers shoot them in the cages?”
She frowned, disapproval registered on her face. “They are not to blame for their treatment. Once we destroy this place, they are going to be fed then released in the wild. The Order believes every life has meaning. You have not learned this yet?”
The flash memory of young men lined up in chains, fresh whip marks on their naked backs, crossed behind LLasher’s eyes.
“We can use the archers to take down the guards — they chose to be here. The monks can sneak into the tunnel works and free the clusters as they come upon them.”
He turned away from her and held up his hand to block the light from his eyes as he rescanned the valley quarry below. “Seems a bit haphazard and prone to have slaves killed. I think we would have better luck at sunset. The majority of the slaves will be back in the dormitories and not spread throughout the mine tunnels. The archers and the dagger-monks can use the fading light to mask their positions.”
As the Khestal Ezan Spymistress she was not involved in battle tactics often. She shrugged. “As you wish. This is your operation. I can divide one team of dagger-monks and have a few secure the slaves used during the late evening in the mines.”
As LLasher detailed, the quarry mine had ceased most of their operations as the sun set. Four to five dozen slaves were being guided roughly to dinner in a circular clearing. Two fire pits blazing. On the pits were twin cooking pots filled with a watery brown stew. Water pouches were handed down the line.
The slaves were mostly prisoners from Wyvernshield and even some of the former pirates that had sacked the city before The Bleeding Crown took over. There were all ages; the Ebon Queen did not discriminate between men, women, old and young. All were hands that could lift a pick or dig with a shovel.
“How do you plan on finding her? She will not look the same as we remember her.” Lyndasia whispered to LLasher as they were back upon the clifftop spying on the quarry.
“That is a great question. My hope is that Jereyna will reveal herself to us once we gain possession of the mine.”
“Jereyna was his woman?”
LLasher nodded. “Aye. She and a friend of mine were leading citizens out through the sewer tunnels during the siege. I do not know what happened or how they were captured but neither of them returned that day.”
“You are sure she survived?”
He winced. “My friend, First-mate Humphreys, learned that she had been taken prisoner. Later she was sent here with most of the prisoners. Since then I have not heard anything else about her or my other friend, Ka Shayla.”
“You…you feel guilty. You feel guilty over King Taihven’s death. That is why you are risking all this — to free his woman in an attempt to ease–“
“–No. She is a side benefit to sacking the mine. If she was the only reason, I would have come here on my own and snuck her out. The mine has to be destroyed as you stated earlier. It is a part of her plans and we have to find any way to delay or prevent her goals from being carried out.”
Lyndasia did not look convinced, but she did not press the issue further.
“Signal the archers. It is time to shut down this disgusting operation,” LLasher ordered.
Six of the perimeter guards walked along the top walls of the quarry. Three walked within the encampment below and three more were at the mouth to the only road entrance to the mines.
LLasher and Lyndasia slipped quietly down the cliffside. Two of the dagger-monks went with them and the other team set off in the opposite direction toward the guard and foremen barracks.
Using the shadows and the occasional boulders stacked on the grounds, they made their way close enough to the hyena pens for Lyndasia to throw chunks of raw meat. The growls of the creatures quieted quickly as they succumbed to the magical properties tainting the food.
LLasher hand signalled to her that they should hit the group by the fire pits. Mischief brought out a radiant smile upon her face, she nodded anxiously.
As they crept closer to the fire pits, one of the foremen could be heard berating a slave.
“She is not asking much of you, scum.” He kicked a young woman in the ribs as she curled up on the ground. “Yet every day we have to tell Queen Letandra that we are even further behind!” He used his thick hide boot on her once again and followed it with a glob of spit that matted her hair.
Another foremen chimed in, “I think they do this on purpose. They think all this is unfair.”
The first laughed at that. He spun around with his arms wide and addressed the throng before the fire. “What? You think because you were born in the city, you were beneath manual labor? You lot need something to motivate you, perhaps?”
He looked down at his boots. “Is that it, whore?” He grabbed her by the long tresses of brown hair and hauled her to her feet. “What should I tell the queen next time? You are sorry, you were not made for–“
He blinked as a flash of fire light reflected off the metal of LLasher’s hatchet. It sailed end over end through the air and embedded itself easily into his thick forehead. His body dropped like a potato sack beneath one of the cooking pots.
The second foreman stuttered in alarm, then went for his own sword but Lyndasia’s short sword slit his neck from ear to ear.
A louder raucous and more shouts were heard coming from the confines of the barrack shacks.
The beaten slave woman shrank back from the strange pair in front of her and scrambled over to the other clusters of slaves.
LLasher held his hands high and empty. “I have others here that are working to free you. Remain calm and quiet — we will have you freed shortly.”
He knelt down next to the first foreman, a man with a receding hairline and long, graying beard. After yanking free his hatchet, he found a ring of keys on the man’s belt. He tossed them to Lyndasia.
Lyndasia called out softly as she approached the suffering prisoners. “Let me unlock your leg chains.”
LLasher asked, “Do any of you know a woman by the name Jereyna?”
At first none dared to speak, but after he repeated the name, a lanky man walked free of the cluster.
“She was sick last week. They took her to the infirmary. We have not seen her since.”
“Do they actually Mend here or…” Lyndasia asked but could not dare finish the question.
LLasher paled at the idea of getting sick in the hands of these monstrous men.
“Sometimes. It depends on the degree of illness or the value of that person. They liked her, she could read and that made her valued. They would give her directions on a map of the mine. She could help the other slaves get things done.” He finished embarrassed and stepped back among the others.
“Where is this infirmary?” LLasher asked, his voice raspy.