Blood of Kings, Prologue
Prologue from Blood of Kings, Alteer Legends Book 3. Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Sand slowly but inexorably ran through the hourglass.
Arms crossed, Ali’ana tapped one finger on her forearm. Petrosi stood beside her, both of them apart from the other observers filling the Ascension Chamber—far more than was typical for the event at hand.
The Tribunal’s five members were all present, sitting in a semicircle of chairs, wearing silver-embroidered white robes, tidy beards, and stern expressions. Carved into the floor before them, a dove embracing a tree—the seal of Darnatha. Captain Jascivius, the Supplicant’s sponsor, paced between them and a dozen other Vigilants attending as witnesses. Light-Bearer Jassaphyne stood away from the crowd, arms also crossed.
Dozens of women in white robes hovered at the rear of the chamber, murmuring. While Priestesses observing a Cleansing wasn’t forbidden, few did under normal circumstances. Ali’ana acknowledged the circumstances were abnormal but saw no reason for things to devolve into a flaming carnival.
A handful of Ascendants patrolled the room, refilling goblets and recharging glowstones lining the granite walls. Theirs were the only eyes not focused on the Mirror.
That black abyss suspended between two stone pillars pulled at the eye and—contrary to its name—reflected nothing at all. One couldn’t help but look at that blankness and remember his or her own experience walking through the portal, as all here had. What occurred on the other side was different for everyone, the challenges adapting to overcome each person’s unique strengths, both mental and physical. Testing if they retained their morality when given every reason to discard it.
Ali’ana hated to think what the current Supplicant was experiencing.
Those who returned shared one thing—scars on the psyche that never faded. And some never walked back out. That was the Mirror’s purpose—to break the breakable. Though rare, it happened. The Trials leading up to each Supplicant’s Crossing weeded out those unlikely to survive Ascension. An arduous, miserable, but necessary process that kept fatalities to a minimum.
The waist-high hourglass sitting before the Mirror counted on, with half the fine white sand already discharged into the bottom chamber. If it ran out, one could assume the Applicant or Supplicant would never emerge. An hour here might be a month there.
On top of the hourglass rested Gelnas—the millennium-old hammer standing on its head, blue gems glowing faintly. Every speck of blood and gore had been painstakingly scrubbed from the intricate crosshatches until the weapon appeared freshly forged.
Ali’ana caught herself before she began pacing again. Logic told her she shouldn’t be worried. Today’s ceremony was unusual, but so was the Supplicant. Still, even the hardest had cracks, and the nightmare world beyond that abyss had been designed to find them.
“After this, things can’t be the same,” Petrosi whispered.
Ali’ana winced. “You know?”
The High Priestess’s lips flickered into a wry smile.
“No one that I’m aware of.”
Ali’ana threw a glance at Jassaphyne. The towering raven-haired woman’s eyes were fixed on the swirling black nothingness. Jascivius’s sister had been the only person wise to the affair. If others were, there might be consequences. Just not for her.
Petrosi touched her shoulder. “You understand as well as I, entanglements interfere with our duty.”
“Are you seriously questioning my commitment?”
“Ali’ana, forget our titles a moment. I’m speaking as your friend. If—when he emerges, enjoy his recovery period. Use the time to decide if proceeding is in his best interest—and yours. If he undertakes the Path come summer, you’ll have my support. But I urge you, reconsider him as your Paladin. For both your sakes.”
She forced her back straight. “He will survive.”
“Of course,” Petrosi chuckled. “Anyone capable of taming you can tame the Mirror.”
“I’m appalled you believe I can be tamed.”
“Said my piece. On another subject, you identified the spy?”
“Yes,” Ali’ana said. “She arrived this morning.”
“What do you plan?”
“For now, nothing. Let her waste time, poking in corners, chatting up the Ascendants. Asdrid is on her way to Karkum. Yeni will keep her busy, in a place no one will think to look.”
Petrosi arched one eyebrow. “The Voice approved?”
Ali’ana smiled innocently.
“What?” Ali’ana said. “Asdrid is doing critical work, conducting a census.”
“Just can’t help yourself, can you?” Petrosi shook her head. “Thought your birthing mystery had resolved itself.”
“Mostly. But why? We can’t ignore a sudden spike in miscarriages. So I dispatched Asdrid. Two squirrels. One stone. The Voice would have locked the girl in a closet, like she has kept herself—secluded away, biting off the heads of any who enter her chambers.”
“She’s in the throes of visions. Deciphering some impending calamity.”
“Besides another war? I’m not sure how long we can forestall Giron’s aggression, with troops massing on both sides of the Arcandis-Pyroth border.”
“Suppose you’re eager to have a talk with His Highness.”
The Mirror pulsed, a dark flash that sucked the light from the room. When the glowstones came back to life, a monstrous man covered in cuts and bruises stood before the portal. Clad in only a loincloth and a glowing chain necklace, his left eye and cheek were swollen and purple. He staggered, chest heaving. The severed head of some horned reptilian creature dropped from his hand.
Ali’ana took a step toward him. Petrosi gripped her arm, stopping her. The Tribunal stood in unison. Grand-General Haphus, in the center, spoke.
“Supplicant Yoseph Greggin of Ambria, you are washed clean of mortal sin, and take your place among Darnatha’s servants. Come forward, Vigilant.”
Yoseph limped to the Temple’s seal. Jascivius met him there, carrying a glass bucket of glowing liquid. He upended the holy water over Yoseph’s bald head, washing away the blood, revealing even more lacerations and a great deal of weight loss. The open wounds closed.
Haphus raised his chin. “We understand you wish to attempt the Martyr’s Path.”
“Given the unusual circumstance of you already being Bonded to a hammer, we decree you undergo your second Crossing immediately.”
A collective gasp rolled through the assemblage. A goblet dropped from Priestess Citla’s hand and shattered. Fuming, Ali’ana squeezed her knuckles white. Every man or woman who’d been on the verge of celebration now stood with mouths open. Only one person remained unperturbed.
Yoseph said nothing.
“You may refuse…” Haphus said, expressionless.
Varyn, to the Grand-General’s left, raised his chin. “And forfeit your claim to Gelnas.” The squat Commander-General didn’t bother to hide a smug curl of his lips. “We have an Armiger’s coat prepared.”
Of all the insane, reckless, foolhardy stunts! You’d make a man with two decades of warfare under his belt a boot-shiner?
Ali’ana tried to tear her arm free. Petrosi halted her with a hiss.
“You’ll only make it worse. We can’t interfere.”
Yoseph met Ali’ana’s eyes. She sent him a silent plea to walk away yet wasn’t the least bit startled when he smiled.
This time, the gathering’s gasp echoed through the chamber. All five men of the Tribunal blinked and paled, even Varyn. Yoseph gripped the glowing chain around his neck and tore it free—for would-be Paladins must face Saint Connor’s Path without the modest health benefit the artifact provided.
The color left his cheeks, and Ali’ana saw just how gaunt he was—the subtle tremor in his arms and legs, above and beyond the weakness plaguing him since the Battle of Bekkon. He wobbled, drew in a sharp breath, and let the chain fall to Darnatha’s seal at his feet.
“May he be Healed?” Jascivius asked.
Haphus swallowed. “That isn’t permitted.”
Yoseph nodded, turned, and strode back into the Mirror. The portal pulsed, and he vanished. That empty blackness rippled like an angry ocean, as if offended to be challenged again so soon. The second time was always worse, with the alien world already having learned the traveler’s shortcomings. For a healthy, well-rested person, surviving the Path took everything. For someone dead on their feet…
Jascivius, wearing a dazed look, approached the hour glass. His left hand lacked pinky through middle fingers. He pulled the reset lever with thumb and index, dumping what sand remained in the upper chamber. The device spun on its axis, beginning the count anew.
Ali’ana broke free of Petrosi and strode to the muttering Tribunal. “You’re doing this to punish me.”
Shoulders slumped, Haphus nonetheless clasped his hands behind his back. “We’re doing this to maintain order. We choose who’s granted hammers, not you. Not even the Voice may interfere in the selection process.”
“When he emerges, I expect each of you to grovel. To fall on your knees and beg him to pick up that hammer.”
“He won’t.” The Grand-General frowned sadly. “He wasn’t meant to accept.”
“Pray he does, Haphus,” Ali’ana said. “While you’re at it, pray Darnatha forgives your hubris and spares you her wrath. For nothing will spare you mine.”
She walked away, stomping feet like thunderclaps.
About the Creator
Jack of all trades, adventurer, and wannabe novelist looking for "The Thing." Author of the Alteer Legends Epic Fantasy Series.
There are no comments for this story
Be the first to respond and start the conversation.