Here it is, your first sneak peak from The Dagger of Adendigaeth, A Pattern of Shadow & Light Book 2!
“Nobility is birthed not of blood but of the heart.”
– Gydryn val Lorian, King of Dannym
The temple of the Prophet Bethamin in Tambarré was built upon the ruins of a much older structure, one that first belonged to the ancient and corrupt Quorum of the Sixth Truth. For two long millennia, the massive complex stood crumbling atop its lonely mountain, a stark reminder of the Adept race’s darkest days. During all the intervening years, none had seen fit to approach it, much less build something new from its ashes.
But time thins the cloth of memory. As the ages pass, its rich colors fade. Strong wool is beaten by the elements until the pattern of its lesson disintegrates, leaving holes in the truths it was meant to carry on. Even the stains of blood blend and bleed, leaving but faded blotches without meaning, mere shadows of lessons that came before, their warnings lost within the obscure impression that remains.
As the strong Saldarian sun dove westward, the Agasi truthreader Kjieran van Stone stood upon the newly rebuilt walls of the Prophet’s temple, staring north. The wind blew his shoulder-length black hair into his eyes, so he held up a hand to hold it back that it might not distract him from the view. In the distance, the upper crescent of the Dhahari mountain range merged with the Iverness range of southeastern Dannym to form jutting, snowcapped peaks as impassible as they were forbidding. Only the Pass of Dharoym permitted travel between Dannym and Saldaria, and it was guarded day and night by hardened men sworn to the Duke of Morwyk.
Kjieran missed Dannym. He missed its green hills and misty grey mornings, its forbidding forests and charcoal seas. He missed the heavy snows of winter, and the north wind that scoured the land; and he missed the people—especially his king. In his years of service to Gydryn val Lorian, the monarch had become like a father to him, and his sons like the brothers Kjieran never had. In many ways, he missed Dannym more than his homeland of Agasan.
Though to be fair, he would’ve just as willingly served ten years before the mast on an Avataren slaver than spend even one more night in Tambarré.
At the behest of his king and the Fourth Vestal Raine D’Lacourte, Kjieran had been truth-bound to secrecy and sent south to serve the Prophet as a spy for the north. He was afraid to do it—he’d nearly wept the night Raine truth-bound him—but the kingdom had no one better suited to go in his stead, and their need was dire.
The Fourth Vestal believed—they all believed—that the plot to end the val Lorian reign encompassed more than a single throne, and had not the king and queen already sacrificed enough with the loss of two of their sons? Kjieran could hardly refuse them, though he suspected that Tambarré would be his doom.
Little did he realize then that there were so many shades of grey within the spectrum of imminent death…that when a man might pluck any variety of poisoned fruit from the Tree of Dying and suffer the ending through myriad torments—drawing it out for months, even years—that death itself might become a mercy.
But he understood that much better now.
Kjieran had served the Prophet for six moons, and every day of it had been a waking horror. Every day he reminded himself of his vital purpose, of their desperate need—not just Dannym’s, but all of Alorin. For without this hope to ground him, to shore up his fortitude and replenish his courage, he knew he would long ago have fled. Instead, each night he warded his dreams before laying down his head, loath to close his eyes for fear of the visions that lurked beyond his sight. But despite his best efforts, when dawn broke each morning, he still woke with a stifled scream.
They all did, the occupants of Tambarré—that is, those who slept at all.
At the sound of a voice raised in anger, Kjieran turned from his wistful study of the mountains. The conversation floated to him on the stagnant air that came seeping out of the temple hall, where large copper braziers glowed day and night. The Ascendants burned incense on those coals, and the oily smoke stained the walls and filled the air with a foul, fetid haze. When he heard the Prophet’s voice, however, Kjieran hurried inside, for Bethamin misliked when his acolytes were not close to hand.
“Those patterns are bound with the fifth strand,” the Prophet was saying in a tone of cold censure as Kjieran crept soundlessly through the vestry. “My hold upon a Marquiin should’ve been impossible to break—unless you’ve been misleading me, Dore.”
“My lord, I wouldn’t dream of misleading you,” came the sycophantic voice of Dore Madden, an Adept wielder and advisor to the Prophet. Kjieran stifled a shudder as he drew up just short of the temple nave. Dore Madden made his skin crawl, and he would just as soon not have the man know he was there.
He inched his head around the archway to see Dore and the Prophet standing about ten paces away. The cadaverous frame that was Dore Madden stood in profile to Kjieran, facing the Prophet as he continued, “The fifth strand acts as the sand in concrete, my lord. Any time one layers patterns of differing strands, they must be bound with the fifth if they are to endure. And like sand into the concrete mix, once bound, they cannot be separated.”
“Then you tell me how it was done!” the Prophet hissed. Kjieran had never seen him so infuriated. Usually Bethamin was all cold dispassion no matter the horrific deeds happening in his name…or in his midst. Bethamin turned away from Dore and stood with hands clasped behind his back, his stance conveying his ultimate displeasure.
The Prophet was a tall man and broad of shoulder. He wore his long black hair in hundreds of braids, each strand bound four times with tiny gold bands, the mass contained by more elaborate braids encircling the whole and again bound in gold. Bare-chested, he wore a tunic of white linen and loose desert pants, and the gold torc around his neck was always bright against his caramel skin. He was imposing. He was coldly arrogant. And he was terrifying.
“My lord, there is no way for me to know how it was done without inspecting the Marquiin who died or interrogating the perpetrator,” Dore said in a soothingly obsequious tone. He smoothed his white hair back from his wide forehead and licked his lips, which he had a habit of doing. Kjieran thought the man just one generation removed from the foulest of desert lizards. “You heard the testimony of your Ascendant as well as I, my lord,” Dore continued. “He saw this northern prince sully your Marquiin right before his own eyes, resulting in the untimely death of one of your most loyal servants. ‘Tis surely the divine grace that is upon you, my lord, that your Ascendant found his way back to us with the terrible news. We must send someone in search of this treacherous wielder who thinks himself above you and seeks to undo your great work. Such a man could cause all manner of mischief while sullying the purity of your name, my lord.”
The Prophet turned Dore a piercing look over his shoulder.
“But more importantly,” Dore continued, leaning toward the Prophet with a wild look in his reptilian gaze and dropping his voice to note, “this happenstance surely proves the validity of my concerns, my lord. We need stronger stock to carry your sigil.” This issue was a bone of contention between Dore and the Prophet—Kjieran had overheard the argument many times. The Prophet turned away again, but Dore continued as his voice rose in pitch, “Wielders and men of the fifth are better suited to your Fire than these feeble fourth-stranders, my lord. Your power is too strong for them as are inborn of frail innocence. Only those born of the fifth might withstand the Fire’s brilliance. They would become beacons for its radiance, my lord! A far more fitting receptacle than a truthreader’s fragile shell.”
“This is not the first time you’ve expressed this sentiment, Dore Madden,” the Prophet observed uninterestedly. “The problem is the resources available.”
“Yes, but I may have solved that problem, my lord.”
Kjieran could tell from the dreadful eagerness in Dore’s tone that the man had been waiting for just the right moment to reveal this new information. Kjieran loathed Dore Madden. Dore was the one who’d taught the Prophet what patterns could be twisted and snarled, perverted or adapted to host the power of his Fire. Every day the wielder brought Bethamin new patterns to try, having first tested them on the dungeons of doomed souls he kept as experimental rats scattered about Saldaria, many of them inexorably bound to him with the fifth.
Much to Kjieran’s chagrin, the Prophet took Dore’s bait. “Indeed? How?”
“There is a man—my most prized student—whom I’ve been working on for some years now. With the right compulsion patterns, I have succeeded in waking him to the currents of elae.”
“Elae,” the Prophet hissed. “An abomination.”
“Indeed, indeed,” Dore clucked, “but one must do things in their proper order, my lord. First my protégé had to learn to sense elae in its natural channels. Then he could be taught to work its patterns and then, my lord,” and here he leveled his snake-eyed gaze at the Prophet’s back, “then he could be taught to work your power.”
The Prophet turned to him. “A common man?”
“Yes, my lord,” Dore replied, eyes alight with fervor. “But we are yet in the early stages of this sequence. Still, I have succeeded in my use of compulsion. I have made a common man into a wielder.”
“A fine accomplishment,” the Prophet noted. “I do not see how he could be brought to work my Fire. A man is but a man.”
“Yes, my lord, but there is a way.”
Dore had the Prophet’s full attention now. “Tell me how,” Bethamin commanded.
Dore’s black eyes veritably glowed with malice. He licked his lips and offered, “Long have we dreamed of a force of wielders, an army worthy of carrying your sigil, an army to spearhead our vital quest to rid this world of the offensive abomination that is elae and all of its accursed children.”
“Indeed,” remarked the Prophet in annoyance. “Do not sermonize to me on my own cause, Dore Madden.”
“My lord,” Dore continued unctuously, “such a force exists already, though they are small and of no use to us. Yet they work a similar power to your own—deyjiin it is called.”
The Prophet’s expression darkened. “What army is this?”
“The Shades, my lord,” Dore whispered with dutiful awe. He licked his lips again. “Long have Shades dwelled in the anathematized realm of T’khendar, bound to the Fifth Vestal, Björn van Gelderan. We cannot use them for our purposes, no, but we can learn from the Fifth Vestal’s skill—indeed, indeed,” he added then, rubbing his hands together and gazing up at the Prophet with wild-eyed glee, “for three centuries I have been working to discover the patterns the Fifth Vestal used to bind the Shades to him—for make no mistake, my lord. They are not merely under compulsion, as your Marquiin, with only a small tendril of power available to do your great work. No, the Shades are bound to Björn van Gelderan body and soul. Through him, they are able to wield his dark power in all its fullness.”
“Deyjiin,” murmured the Prophet, and Kjieran shivered from the ominous interest in his eyes. Abruptly Bethamin focused his gaze upon Dore. “You have found these patterns?”
“Not entirely,” Dore confessed, a momentary frown flickering across his cadaverous features, “but my work progresses at great speed.” He licked his lips again. “It won’t be long now, my lord.”
The Prophet regarded him intently. “And the man who vilified my Marquiin?”
“Yes,” Dore said, drawing the word into a hiss. “This Ean val Lorian—he must be brought to face your justice, my lord. The job of retrieving him will be a most fitting quest for my star pupil—a most fitting quest—and a proving ground for his newfound skills. You will see, my lord.” Dore licked his lips and rubbed his hands with savage delight. “You will see then how our plans may finally be achieved!”
Kjieran inwardly swore, for the news was both baffling and grave. A host of factions already wanted Ean’s death. Now to have Dore Madden after him as well? And how in Tiern’aval did Ean unbind a Marquiin? From what Kjieran knew of the young prince, he had no Adept talent.
I must get word to the Fourth Vestal at once.
Bethamin meanwhile was considering Dore with his darkly piercing eyes. At last, and much to Kjieran’s mounting horror, he said, “Let it be done.”
Dore’s expression came as close to ecstasy as a cadaver could look, as though death had claimed him in the last moments of coitus, just as release shuddered through him. “Thank you, my lord.” He bowed eagerly and headed off.
The Prophet turned to look directly at Kjieran then, and the truthreader had no doubt that the man had known he was there all the while. “Come, Kjieran,” he commanded.
Kjieran exited the vestry into the nave where the Prophet stood wreathed in haze. He seemed an unearthly creature with his braids like serpents and his bare chest as muscled as the finest marble statue, with his dark eyes and exotically handsome features. The Prophet was terrible and bewitching and darkly compelling, and Kjieran had never been so afraid of any living man.
What disturbed him the most was that though he knew Bethamin to be wholly without compassion and intent upon the destruction of their world—Kjieran saw the corruptive influence of his Fire and the horrific anguish it caused—yet still he was drawn to the man in spite of these!
Yea, what terrified Kjieran van Stone the most about the Prophet Bethamin was the sure knowledge that he was no more immune to the Prophet’s seductive power than anyone else.
Kjieran knelt before the Prophet, head bowed. “My lord,” he whispered.
“Kjieran, you told me you were trained in Patterning,” said the Prophet.
Kjieran kept his eyes on the floor. The Prophet misliked the colorless eyes of a truthreader, yet he kept a few unsullied ones around to advise him, as if knowing that his Marquiin, once touched by his own fell power, were tainted and thereby useless for discerning the truth. The hypocrisy sickened Kjieran. “Yes, my lord. I trained in Agasan’s Sormitáge.”
“Dore would have me believe there is such a pattern as he describes. Is it so?”
“If there is, I do not know it.”
“And these Shades of which he spoke? They exist?”
“I have never seen one, my lord, but they were a terrifying force during the Adept Wars. Dore would know them better than I, my lord. He survived the fall of the Citadel and is one of the Fifty Companions.”
The tragedy of this truth anguished Kjieran no end. That Dore Madden survived while so many good men fell—it was a bitter irony how the treacherous walked free while thousands of innocents had gone to their deaths.
The Prophet reached down and took Kjieran by the chin, guiding him to rise. His touch felt as deeply cold as a river stone long caressed by the glacial melt; achingly cold, like bare flesh held too long to the snow. Kjieran kept his eyes downcast while the Prophet considered him, only praying that whatever Bethamin found in his countenance would please him enough to let him be on his way again.
In the privacy of his chambers, the Prophet liked to experiment with the darkest of workings—bindings and compulsions and corrupted first-strand patterns that tormented rather than healed—and the man maintained the utmost reserve throughout the process, no matter how insanely the subject screamed. Kjieran found no rhyme or reason in who was chosen for these intervals, nor even any way to predict who would survive them. He merely prayed that Fate would close its eye to him in that moment while his heart beat frantically and he sipped his breath in tiny measures.
“Thank you, Kjieran,” came the Prophet’s deep voice. He released Kjieran’s chin. “That will be all.”
“Your will be done, my lord,” Kjieran managed, barely able to mumble the words for the ache in his jaw. He retreated to the vestry as quickly as he dared and then raced down the hall and into a prayer alcove, pulling its curtain roughly into place. He collapsed against the wall then, shaking uncontrollably and fighting back the tension and fear that clenched his chest in a death-like vise. Sliding down to the floor, Kjieran hugged his knees to his chest and wept in silence. He wept in relief and he wept in despair.
For in that moment when the Prophet held him fast, an overpowering yearning to please his lord had possessed him. It felt wholly wrong—he knew this—a compulsion laid upon him so expertly that he couldn’t tell anything was being worked at all. Yet he had been unable to resist it—to resist him. Kjieran knew that had the Prophet asked him in that moment to do anything—anything—he would have done it willingly. So Kjieran wept in gratitude that Fate’s hand had passed him by, and he wept with the terrible understanding that the next time Fate’s eye fell upon him, he might not be so graced.
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Well you certainly set the bar high with Cephraels Hand and it looks like you are going for gold! First, love the cover design, it has a Raymond Feist look about it but please take that as a compliment for it captures all the aesthetic elements of fantasy. A truly wonderful first chapter, elegant prose, engaging dialogue and the pace I enjoyed so much with CH. Brilliant and very much looking forward to reading it.
Stephan, thank you very much! I also am pleased with the cover – I think Kentaro did a fabulous job capturing the mystique of T’khendar. I’m really looking forward to the release and getting feedback on your thoughts on The Dagger of Adendigaeth.
I enjoyed your first book and shall buy this one as soon as it comes out, can’t wait!
Ian, thank you so much. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on The Dagger of Adendigaeth.