It is that time of year again. And yes, I can't believe it either. Where has the year gone? One minute I'm still writing my novel, the next I'm being told to go buy gifts... Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas. It is one of my most favourite times of the year. I just wished I could get my new novel out to all of you before the year ended. Unfortunately, that will not happen, and it saddens me deeply.
Saying that, I do have some news.
BOOK 2 of The Stormfall Cycle is COMPLETE! It still has some way to go with editing and cover design work, which is starting in January, but it is nearing finalisation. Weighing in at just over 130 000 words, it is sure to keep you all entertained for a while.
Now, it being the time of giving, I thought I'd share an unedited early version of an excerpt of Book 2. Please be aware that this might change from now until release day.
A big bruise spread across his left rib-cage, grey-purple and sore to the touch. Calmantis was sure they had cracked or broken at least one of them. Then again, he had never been able to withstand pain as well as he would have liked. He dropped his shirt and softly caressed the wound, wincing at the touch.
Cold floor brushed his bare feet where he walked towards the narrow window in the wall, a ray of dying light warming his numb fingers as he wrapped them around the bars. I should be proud! he thought, clenching his jaw. What I did could possibly save the entire world, and that of the gods. He was sure he should have felt great about what he had done, yet there was something that just didn’t feel like he had won in the end. Oh, wake up, Calmantis! You were used, like always! You were expendable . . . He dropped his head against the cool iron between his hands, the momentary pain of the hit – a little too hard for his liking – a grim reminder of what Ostarra wanted to do with him.
It had been nearly ten days since the night Ostarra had hunted him. Ten days of nothing but deliberation on both parties’ side. His circumspect behaviour, and his unwillingness to be manipulated again, resulted in a stalemate that granted neither any benefit. He knew he was being a stumbling block.
Fear was not his concern, and neither was dying – although the thought of his last breath escaping him was a very disconcerting one. No, it was the thought of failure that haunted him. A deep-seated fear that he would never be good enough as a person on his own. That he should have listened to his mother and father, and joined them in the business they created. The legacy they carved.
He opened his eyes to a shuddering breath released from his lips and took in the beautiful surroundings he could see of Yelavantia. Elaborate bridges of intertwined vines and delicate crystal tracery spanned great chasms, connecting terraced gardens where vibrant flora cascaded in riotous blooms next to the crystalline waters. Here and there, towering spires of quartz stood as a monument of their capable engineering. Calmantis had marvelled at those buildings at night time, when an iridescent glow from the moon and stars reflected from the surfaces, bathing the entire city in its glory.
Looking at the wondrous place he found himself jailed in, he could not help but think that this was what he hoped the gods’ realm would be. What would the Shadow Guard do? Calmantis burst out laughing, a pained shudder leaving him where he clutched his ribs. They would have no idea what to do . . . This is new territory, for daresay anyone. In all honesty, they would probably leave her there to her fate. They would not risk the wrath of the gods. Especially not that of Aztar. They would be stripped of their rank from the Order, branded as heretics, and imprisoned for even suggesting such a thing as they want me to do. I can see it now, heads rolling from the guillotine, citizens shouting and laughing.
He shuddered at the thought, and stepped away from the window, chains rustling around his ankles. A short shuffled walk back to his pallet then, trying to keep his mind numb to all that was happening. He thought back to the very first time Tay’la had walked through the door, cringing at the memory . . .
Calmantis had awakened with a throbbing head, mind foggy and slow, eyes unwilling to focus, a sharp, spicy smell burning his nostrils. Blurry faces had surrounded him, crowded in close, only to jump back when his eyes fluttered open, groans of pain and indignation leaving him. ‘You will pay for this,’ he drawled, a long string of drool reaching for the ground from his mouth, where he stood propped up by a device of ornate steel, a flurry of symbols emblazoned on its shiny surface. His head and hands were locked in the device, same as he’d seen criminals in Baldor secured in the pillories, people hurling rotten fruit and insults at them. ‘Do you know who I am?’ he mumbled, and for a moment, he wished they could tell him. His memories were a mess. He wasn’t sure where he was, who he was, or why he was there to begin with.
Faces blended and merged, their clothing a dizzying array of colours and patterns coming into sharp focus. A silver-haired female Sidhe stood before him, face set in a scowl, brows stern. She handed a small sachet over to a younger female on her right and gestured her to leave. Gradually the air became more tolerable, the pungent smell slowly drifting away from the area. Calmantis’s head reeled. Groups congregated all around, some in silence, some whispering to others, their voices filling the chamber with a low buzz.
‘What are you?’ The silver-haired woman asked, arms crossed, tapping her middle finger on her arm impatiently.
‘Wha . . .’ Calmantis mumbled confusedly, turning his head to look around. A vast hall with towering archways carved from gleaming quartz reflected glints of the sun piercing through the high windows, intricate vine motifs chiselled into the stonework. High above a vaulted dome ceiling that seemed to stretch to infinity, lending a sense of boundless space to the chamber. Tapestries adorned the wall that seemed to come alive when an observer approached. It was a unique chamber. Something he had never seen before, but the most impressive, was the enormous tree in the middle, where crystalline pools reflected the sparkling sun, arranged in a circular pattern around the tree.
‘Your mind is muddled. It seems you are weaker than we thought. They assured me they did not hit you very hard.’ She turned to another Sidhe, a male standing some distance away, glaring at him for some time. Calmantis sensed how the man squirmed beneath her stare. When she turned back to him, she continued, ‘I am Thasalla Maelis, the Sylvan Sovereign. Adjudicator, arbiter, mother, matriarch. These are all titles I am known by.’
Thasalla stepped closer, her soft footfalls a drum beat in Calmantis’s ears. Nothing else stirred. ‘I ask again. What are you?’
What am I? Memories of his recent adventure with the god Ostarra came rushing back to him. ‘I am a Voidwalker . . . and I shall take my leave.’ He had no want to be kept caged any longer than was necessary. Calmantis reached out to touch the curtains of the world, and draw them, hoping to step through and disappear from this realm and make good his escape. A fierce jolt ran through his spine, a charge like a lightning bolt coursing through his bones, twisting his limbs and body. Spasmodically, he thrust out his pelvis, slamming his hip bone against the device, and nearly lost all control of his bladder. All around him, the Sidhe leapt back in fear, angry scowls on their faces.
‘You shall do no such thing,’ Thasalla said, a smirk on her elegant, old face. ‘You have been bound to this world until I say otherwise.’ Anxious, a bead of sweat formed on Calmantis’s brow. ‘Bring in the girl,’ the Sylvan Sovereign called to a guard stationed near a gigantic door that glimmered in the light. For its magnanimous size, it opened at a touch, latches falling away with loud, echoed voices, scraping the inside of Calmantis’s skull.
It was an odd method of interrogation, bringing a child in to talk to him. She must be a sorceress or something even more powerful. Maybe it’s a calling card, or a nickname they gave her, he thought, lifting his head as far as he could, stretching his eyes wide to see what would appear. To his somewhat disappointment, a regular little Sidhe girl strolled into the chamber, frail, thin arms, as pale as the moon pendant held near to her chest, freckles lining her nose. Eyes wide in fear, she approached with caution towards Thasalla, who held out her hand with a loving smile. ‘It’s okay, dear. He can’t hurt you.’
‘I would never hurt a child!’ Calmantis shouted. ‘I’ve never hurt anyone! Well, physically, that is. But they could always recover from a bit of lost coin. Let me go! This is a mistake.’ Thasalla gestured to the two men at her side, and they marched closer, determined, angry. They took up positions on either side of Calmantis, their presence stirring a sense of foreboding through his veins.
The crowds were hushed as the girl slowly approached him, their eyes locked on each other. ‘We will talk, you and I. See what you have done,’ the girl said in barely a whisper. Rough hands grabbed him with the device and hauled him up, dragging his feet across the pristine floor towards the pools. Kicking and screaming, Calmantis’s nerves were frayed. Were they about to drown him in these magnificent pools?
A beating of drums started, joined by others hitting the butts of travel canes on the floor in rhythmic unison. A group of ten Sidhe, men and women, formed a circle before one pool on their knees, the girl waiting in the centre, trembling, lip quivering. Thasalla initiated a melodic chant, which the ten in the circle took up, their humming voices beating against Calmantis’s sanity.
The chant grew in pace; the ten Sidhe’s upper bodies were in constant movement, chests swelling, shoulders shaking. On and on they droned, until a shimmering thread came into being in the palm of their hands, little Tay’la included where she still sat in the centre. Another chant started up from Thasalla, different from the ones of the ten, making it hard for Calmantis to focus on anything. He had never been good at listening, not to mention when there were too many noises, his mind very adapt at blocking out what he could not follow.
The Sylvan Sovereign walked around the group, chanting, sweeping her hands back and forth over their shimmering threads, each time taking a little more, weaving together an ethereal tapestry of energies, with Tay’la at the centre of it all. It was taking a long time, and Calmantis’s legs were growing tired, the muscles spasming, not being able to stand up fully. The splendorous moon and stars replaced the glimmering rays of the sun, yet their voices never seemed to grow tired, or lose track of the chant. Threads dwindled from their hands into the magic tapestry, and finally Thasalla guided Tay’la towards the pool.
Eager to see what was happening, Calmantis craned his head until the sharp edge of the device dug into the back of his neck. The chanting softened, and Tay’la’s voice echoed over the water, merging with the magic in the air. ‘Liin röyt touo, maas pei na ke, tortiirva. Hy köi mä nä pat nuis ral.’ Even though he did not know Sielish, he heard the words spoken in his head. Across the Fold, I call to you, sister. Let me be your guide back home.
Thasalla worked her hands on the invisible threads, binding them together, and leaned over the pool, whispering under her breath. The moon’s light danced on the surface of the water, sparkling with Tay’la’s reflection within. Calm and docile, the surface quickly changed to one of contempt, bubbling and boiling, steam rising to waft over Tay’la’s young face, waving her silver hair back. Tay’la’s visage turned ethereal, her features changing, the surrounding quartz walls behind her shifting to that of darkness. In that gloom Tirveeä emerged, slamming her fist against the surface of the water to break through to the mortal realm, yet the water did not allow her.
Thasalla jumped back, and with the help of the other ten, they weaved the threads together, intertwining them to resonate like a symphony of magic and nature. Tay’la placed her hand upon the water’s surface, and so did Tirveeä, their minds melding, their thoughts merging. ‘Thank you, sister, for doing this.’ Tirveeä’s words echoed through the minds of the participants.
Tay’la started screaming, her hand drifting away from the boiling water until Thasalla gripped her shoulders re-affirmingly, rubbing her arms while guiding her through the pain. The threads of energy converged, funnelling through the young girl Tay’la, coursing through her small body and into the pool, enveloping Tirveeä on the other side while the chanting continued, sealing the connection between the two.
Once-calm water now danced as waves in a storm, as if the girl’s screams were the driving force. Calmantis’s ears rung and ached, yet he could not look away. One by one, the pools exploded up in a steaming spray, causing havoc to those closest, who leapt away in fear of getting burnt.
The violent display settled, shocked faces all around, staring at each other, wiping the water from their clothes and faces. Near the edge of the pool, Thasalla stood hunched over the girl, frantically trying to get her to breathe. ‘Come on, child! Not like this! I beg the Eldertrees. Give her breath!’ A short, sluggish gurgle sounded, and Tay’la drew a ragged breath of air.
Expressionless, she lay there, and said, in a new voice, Tirveeä’s voice, ‘Being hunted . . . Need to get home soon. This is not our world.’ Tay’la’s body spasmed, her neck twitching, and suddenly her fearful eyes returned. Instantly tears flowed from them.
‘I want to go home.’
Thasalla helped her up, and said, ‘And so you shall, child. Take her to her room and tend to her wounds.’ One guard stepped forth and scooped the girl from the ground with ease, striding past Calmantis with not so much as a look.
Here, now, back in the gaol, Calmantis cleared his mind of the memory and took a shuddering breath. He lay down on his pallet and closed his eyes.
If you want to read further, you will have to wait for the release unfortunately. Luckily that won't be too long from now.
And if you made it all the way through the excerpt, I hope you enjoyed the small piece. And thank you for reading my work.
Please enjoy this festive season, and let's be kind to all our fellow humans and pets. Be safe out there.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
See you in 2024 where the adventures awaits us all anew.
Copyright © 2023 Marius H. Visser