Hello Again Friends and Readers. Hope this day finds you well, as always. Well, I’ve been working hard on my latest manuscripts, as well as my other writing projects. The poem on my last post, for instance. My latest book’s done(essentially), but not yet published. I hate making everyone wait so long, but that’s really what the publishing business is, a waiting game. Take my anticipation for George Martin’s next installment for his Song of Ice and Fire series. He needs to finish that like, yesterday. Anywho, for everyone who’s been anticipating the next story in the fantastic land of Aeonith, I have a wonderful surprise. Following is the first chapter in my next book, Comes a Dark Heir. This story takes place a short time before the Tscon Lightbringer books. I hope to have the whole book out soon, and am anxiously and feverishly working on it’s sequel as we speak. At any rate, here it is, hope you all enjoy!
The ancient tome lying upon the table released a musty odor as its timeworn pages were turned. Old books often have a peculiar scent that summons a strong sense of nostalgia to the imagination. Ancient knowledge is like this too, bringing a sense of the familiar along with the history of the world and its people.
Adjunt thought about that as he studied the book before him. A dragon had once graced the cover, breathing fire upon a painted hilltop. The dragon had long since vanished, and the hilltop was barely discernable. Only the yellow sun near the top remained clearly visible, near the word …Age. The rest of the title was as lost to time as the dragon.
The pages were fragile, and easily torn if one were not careful. This book was known to be one of the oldest in the library, dating back to the Lost Age of Aeonith, a dark time of which little to nothing was known, or remembered. Far and few were any histories of that era, and all were treasured as much or more than gold or gems. The reader focused his attention on the last pages of the ancient tome.
Adjunt studied the drawing on the current page. Its meaning was clear enough, a dying dragon lying underneath the heel of a booted man. The dragon slayer held a strange weapon in his hand. Not a sword or a lance, but a short curved object, with its point looking down at the vanquished foe. The illustration was much too faded to provide any more detail. Another page of history lost.
Adjunt carefully turned the page. Every crinkle made him wince inside. The Librarian would throw him out if even a single sheet were damaged. Adjunt breathed a small sigh of relief as he read the words on this page, he’d finally found the information he sought. Adjunt studied the tome carefully, memorizing each and every line, knowing he’d have to recite them exactly once he returned to his general. At last, he reached the end of the book. Carefully closing the musty tome, Adjunt slowly stood up to await the Librarian’s return. One didn’t return these books to the shelves himself.
The Librarian of the Archive arrived seconds after Adjunt rose to his feet. Most likely the old man had been watching him the whole time. Stooped and bent in a white robe that never seemed to get dirty, the Librarian had been in the Archive for well over a hundred years. No one was able to account for his longevity, the Librarian himself least of all. ‘Why ask me that?’ he would say when probed, ‘Do you know how long you’re going to live?’ In his entire tenure, not one book in the Archive had ever been lost, damaged or stolen. So long as he maintained his charges thusly, no one seemed to care how old he was, or how he maintained his state of being.
The Librarian carefully scooped up the ancient tome, giving Adjunt a disapproving glance as he scurried away with his prize. Adjunt smiled within at that, but not without. Adjunt rarely smiled. The Librarian disappeared behind one the massive shelves that filled up the voluminous Archive. Adjunt looked around once more, considering the thought of perusing one more book, just to be sure. No, that wasn’t necessary. Adjunt turned toward the huge double doors that gave exit to the massive library, comfortable that he’d found the information his master sought.
The hallway leading out of the Archive was also large. Most everything was of considerable size in the great fortress-city of Cerasin-Cera. Built early in the New Age by the Sorcerer-King Alfis, Cerasin-Cera was made to be as imposing and intimidating as its founder. Great halls were connected by cavernous passageways that made the walker feel small and insignificant.
The heels and soles of Adjunt’s bone-plated boots echoed off the elaborately engraved stone floor. Carvings of ancient creatures and looming mountains alternated beneath his feet as he made his way down the corridor. As usual, Adjunt wore a black silk shirt with a bright blue thread running through each seam. Dark breeches sewn with the same thread fell down his legs into the tall boots he’d worn since his master had bestowed them on him over ten years before. In almost anywhere in the southern kingdoms, his clothes would have been elaborate. But here in Cerasin-Cera, his apparel was common, almost plain. Only the insignia on his right breast, a dove of peace with a bolt of lightning in its beak, gave away his station as the official subordinate of the highest general in the Arcanian military.
Adjunt rounded a corner as he made his way to the Ascent, a long, vertical corridor that led to the many levels that comprised the offices and housing of the vast city. The Archive was on one of the lower levels, ostensibly so that the air might provide an atmosphere more conductive to book longevity. He was considering that fact when he stopped short, so as not to run into the person who’d just appeared in front of him.
Slynn Anthenia was a tall woman. Though slim, almost bony by some reckonings, she would never be called delicate. Cold brown eyes studied the general’s assistant from underneath thin black eyebrows. A lavish purple dress wound its way around her thin frame. Two inch-high stiletto heeled shoes covered in sparkling gemstones of every kind raised her up even higher. She looked down callously at the general’s associate, as though he were an insect in need of squashing. Instead of crushing him, however, she spoke, in a high, shrill voice that made most men’s teeth stand on edge. Adjunt was not most men.
“I see you’ve been to the Archive, little man.”
At three inches over six feet, Adjunt was not a little man at all. But Slynn Anthenia delighted in calling him that anyway, though she called most all men that, and some women. Her tall, thin body and high heels made him look up at her when she addressed him. Though she meant to be intimidating, and often was to most, Adjunt simply stood in front of her, his face carved of marble.
“I have, my lady.”
“It’s Lordess now, actually. My brothers are both dead, as you should know.” She let the anger in her heart come through in her voice. Adjunt’s voice remained the same, calm as a mountain stream.
“Of course, my apologies, Lordess Anthenia.”
The two adversaries faced off in a silent showdown. Lady Anthenia stared at Adjunt with an icy stare that terrified most men. But Adjunt was not most men. He returned her stare with the coldness of a stone statue. Every second the silence lingered infuriated the Lordess that much more. At last, she was unable to contain her anger.
“Well, what are you doing down here, little man!” She spat the last words at him.
“About the general’s business, my lordess.”
“And what does our famous general want in the Archives, I wonder?”
“That would be the general’s business, my lordess.”
She was now infuriated beyond reasoning. She began shouting, hoping the venom in her words might sway the general’s subordinate.
“Must I remind you who you’re talking too? I could send your head back to your precious general on a silver plate for this insolence. Perhaps he could still get whatever information he wants out of you by searching the inside of your skull. Now I asked you a question, what are you looking for in the Archives?”
Adjunt was not moved in the least by the Lordess’ ranting. He’d dealt with far worse than this petulant aristocrat.
“I am searching for the general’s business, my lordess.”
Lordess Anthenia took a deep breath, as if to summon her guards who were just a few steps behind her. Two huge men in shining plate mail armor stood ready to answer her commands. She held her breath a moment, hoping the gesture might intimidate her opponent, it certainly worked in most men. Adjunt was not most men. When she was convinced he would not reply in her favor, she let go her breath. Adjunt smelt the sickly aroma of stale wine.
“You get away with far too much because you’re the general’s pet. But you’ll go too far one day, and I only hope it’s with me. A short rope around your neck would be a welcome punishment next to the penance I would demand. Get out of my sight.”
Adjunt bowed low to the querulous lordess. He quickly stepped around the woman and the men who guarded her. Cold eyes followed him down the corridor until he made the corner. Adjunt smiled inside, he rarely smiled outside.
The Ascent soon loomed imminent. A large archway, at least twenty feet tall greeted him. He stepped into a round room wide enough to accompany at least fifteen people of average size. He seemed small suddenly, despite having just come from the sizeable hallways of the lower city. Detailed images of clouds and wind were chiseled into the curved walls. A white dragon was carved into the stone floor, wings spread and mouth open. Instead of fire, a cold wind leapt forth from the dragon’s maw, freezing the hilltop carved opposite the magnificent creature.
Adjunt looked up as he waited to begin his rise. Suddenly, an unseen force gently lifted him off the ground. He rose slowly at first, with nothing underneath his feet but stale air. He began to climb faster as he went up, until he could no longer make out the elaborate carvings along the wall. As Adjunt came closer to his next destination he stepped forward, and his ascent slowed. A doorway suddenly appeared above and in front of him, and as his feet came within walking distance, he stepped forward into a new hallway.
The corridors here were much smaller than the halls he’d just left. These hallways were of conservative size by the city’s standards, with room to walk only three abreast. The images along the walls were obscene. Men and women were lying about on pillows, tables, beds, and all manner of furniture in the most lascivious poses. Adjunt ignored them as best he could, though it was hard to keep one’s eyes straight when a particularly elegant depiction presented itself. Best not tempt myself, he thought, the general was not one to be kept waiting. He focused on the task ahead, which he was afraid might prove impossible.
Two guards waited outside the room that was his destination. Both were women, as they all were on this level of the city. They wore elaborate leather armor dyed a seductive lavender. A woman bared herself on their chests, her arms spread out, and her legs closed yet folded in a particularly inviting way. Both guardswomen were well-built and muscular, with blond hair flowing down and hovering near their shoulders. These were the guardswomen of the Purple Palace, the unofficial name for the brothel level of the great fortress-city. Adjunt looked directly at them, paying their erotic protection no heed.
“I must see the Lady, on General Lysis’ orders.”
The woman on his right replied, in a flat tone that nearly matched his own.
“No one sees the Lady tonight.”
Adjunt was not ready to leave this task undone.
“These orders do come from the General himself. I’d be careful about refusing him.”
The women exchanged careful, nervous glances.
“No one sees the Lady tonight.”
Adjunt sighed heavily. Some things were beyond even the general’s influence. Military and royal authorities were almost absolute in Cerasin-Cera, as in most of the kingdoms in southern Bordelon, but only royal authority could truly go anywhere they wished. Military power was still limited where royalty was concerned, and the Lady was considered royalty. In a land where magic ruled the lives of everyone, this was not completely uncommon, nor unexpected. At least he’d tried. Adjunt took a step back, bowed slightly, and returned down the lewd corridor from whence he’d come.
Once in the Ascent, Adjunt traveled up to its highest level. At the top he stepped off the invisible platform into the cold wind of the high mountains. A white granite walkway snaked around the mountain upon which the mighty fortress-city was built. Cold stone colonnades stood watch here, seeming to hold the sky itself up. It was a trick of the eye, an optical illusion made by ancient builders, and yet it never ceased to amaze him. He followed the path before him to his final destination of the evening.
A large steel door loomed over him at the end of the stone walkway. Two iron statues stood guard here, wrought in a likeness of the warriors of old, who wore no armor at all, save a metal loinguard around their waists. Each metallic guardian held a giant sword in their left hand, slung over their shoulders in an almost leisurely fashion. Adjunt approached and stood still as he waited between them. A pale blue light began to shine behind their metallic eyes. Suddenly the huge door swung open, and Adjunt walked inside.
At the top of the highest peak of the largest city in the Arcanian Empire, one might have expected to find a lavishly furnished apartment, complete with hot baths, feather beds, resplendent lounges and other elaborate furnishings. Such was not the case here. The room was sparsely accommodated, with a plain bed in a far corner, and a modest desk and chair. Two simple chairs sat on a rounded balcony overlooking the wide valley below. One chair was quite normal in size, while the other dwarfed its cousin, seeming large enough to sit a giant. A tall man stood between these seats, looking out across the hills. Adjunt waited near the door until his master addressed him.
The tall man turned and walked back into the room, his eyes down, lost in thought. He picked up a glass half-full with a deep red wine that seemed to shimmer as it sloshed about the cup. He downed it one gulp, then his eyes rose to meet his subordinate.
General Kyrar Lysis was as tall as a human being had ever been. At nearly eight feet, he would need to bend down to leave his own room. Broad shoulders and wide, well-muscled arms bespoke of a strength few men possessed. An equally strong intelligence shone from behind ice-blue eyes. General Lysis kept his face clean of hair, while long black locks fell straight behind his head in a sweep of doom.
The general wore plain black breeches and a black silk robe on evenings like these, when the wind was cool but gentle. His deep blue eyes were as unreadable as his friend’s, yet something shone even deeper. What that was depended on his mood, which this evening was particularly somber. Kyrar Lysis was the only man in southern Bordelon who could read Adjunt’s face accurately.
“That took longer than expected.” The general’s voice was deep and even. “Were there problems?”
“Diversions, my lord.” Adjunt’s reply was equally flat.
“Ah, her again. The emperor’s woman has sent her agents into my soldiers, trying to buy or seduce information from them.”
“I trust she has been unsuccessful, my lord.”
A bemused look crossed the general’s face as he studied his assistant.
“Indeed she was not. As ever, her associates are imbeciles and fools. Enough about her. Were you admitted to the seer?”
“I am afraid not, my lord.”
Lysis looked down for a moment, annoyance crossing his face, and simmering in his eyes.
“We’ll need her help before it’s done. Try again on the morrow. I must know what she predicts as quickly as possible.”
Adjunt raised his eyebrow, the only sign that he was hesitant.
“If I may be so bold, it is somewhat disconcerting to place so much of our plans upon a fortune-teller. She has been wrong before. If we fail…”
General Lysis smiled grimly at Adjunt’s display of concern. “If we fail the Empire is doomed. And I don’t need a fortune teller to see that outcome.”
General Lysis turned to look out through the balcony at his beloved Empire.
“Petulant lords fight wars over petty grievances. Small minds and shallow souls, like this Anthenia, are elevated to statuses they have not earned. Our army has fallen to nothing, a few volunteers who have nowhere else to go. If it were not for the Black Plains, the Mytarian Empire would have overtaken us long ago. The people languish in our towns and cities, forlorn and forgotten by the very kings they serve. Our own Sorcerer-King wallows in depraved excess, tending to his own whims and ignoring the realities of our people. If we do not act soon, what’s left of our nations will fall into ruin, and the Empire will fade into a distant and forgotten memory. And if The Empire falls…” General Lysis let the rest of that thought fade into the brisk wind that blew into his modest chambers
Adjunt allowed a measure of grief across his face. He knew how much the south and its people meant to Kyrar Lysis.
“We will not let that happen, my lord.”
Kyrar looked up at his friend, showing a humble appreciation seldom seen in the proud general.
“No, we will not. We shall succeed, or die trying, to be sure.” Kyrar smiled. “So, what did you discover?”
Adjunt proceeded to tell his General everything he’d learned on his visit to the Great Archive of the Arcanian Empire. Kyrar listened with a measure of concern, and perhaps a bit of uneasiness at the end. At last, the tall, impressive general turned and walked back to his balcony, considering everything he’d just heard.
“Very well,” he said at length, a new determination in his face and in his voice, “you may set our plans in motion.”