Summary

Clans of Fire and Iron

The Balance has shifted.

Chaos blooms in the aftermath of war and the devastating fall of the Four Gods. The Summer Lands, the last free and untainted vestige of humanity, begins to slip toward darkness as agents of the False God infiltrate a crumbling infrastructure of complex politics and waning magic. The unwanted son of a powerful northern chieftain is sold to another clan in a bid for power as strange creatures and a poisonous pestilence begin to creep across the Clans. Pieces are sent into motion and the tentative peace between the Nine Clans of Summer strains dangerously as an even darker threat looms over them all.

Who will stand against the rising tide of subjugation and death when even gods may die?

Telia

Clans of Fire and Iron

Telia: Part One

Vibrancy- during Light and Flame

In the 105th year AF (After the Fall)

The Gav’ath Woods of Clan Val’more, Summer Lands

Telia bent over the dying man, slim, pale fingers searching quickly for his wound. She located it almost at once in the form of a deep slice across his large chest. The injury was jagged and cruel, as though his skin had been shredded rather than cut, the work of claws and teeth rather than steel and iron. Leaning forward, midnight hair veiling her face against the peering moonlight, she lapped up his thickening blood. Its coppery warmth filled her mouth and the Visions assaulted her immediately.

Reeling back a pace, nearly overwhelmed, she shifted quickly through the scenes and images like a scholar flipping through the pages of a book in search of a particular passage. Though she’d anticipated it, what she saw nearly superseded all her years of training. So much pain. So much terror. There is nothing to fear from darkness but ourselves, she thought, calming her erratic heartbeat with a few deepening breaths.

“Please… help me,” the man – his blood had named him Roul- begged from beneath her trembling hands. His voice drew her back to the present.

His companions lay unmoving around him, hearts quiet and chests still. Six armed and armored men torn nearly to shreds, tossed aside like so many scraps of unwanted food. The smell of death, pain, and fear was heavy in the lush forest air, thickening like the blood on her tongue. Telia was lucky to have found one of them alive, a break in their long, largely fruitless journey. Vision could only be achieved through the blood of the living and unfortunately for the injured man, he would not be alive for much longer.

“Please… they came down… from the trees… their eyes,” he coughed and she felt hot blood and spittle spray across her face and chest, “their eyes burned.”

“Hush now, shhhhh,” she murmured gently, pressing a finger softly to his blood coated lips. He quieted, relaxing as the power of her voice swept through him.

She sang Roul into an easy and painless death. Partially in thanks for the information his blood had given her and partially to ease her own guilt. She could do nothing for him and he would not make it back to the village. When his last gurgling breath had receded into the balmy night, she wiped her mouth on the back of her sleeve and sighed. His blood had left an awful taste in her mouth.

“Well?” Wyn asked softly from behind her. Her voice wavered tellingly.

“Another attack, they are growing more bold,” she said, almost to herself, lost in thoughts and memories that were not her own.

Turning she clicked her tongue sharply twice, waited, and clicked it thrice more in the opposite direction. The sounds echoed off the moss-covered rocks and massive tree trunks while she tilted her head this way and that like a curious fledgling. The forest was silent, as though it held its breath for her.

“They are gone now,” she said, “though it seems their path leads north, toward the mountains.”

She heard Wyn step around the bodies, felt the tremor of fear in each footfall and rounded on her in a flurry of deep violet robes. Telia slapped her apprentice hard, the sound of flesh meeting flesh a violent cry in the night. Her hand stung and it was almost pleasant, the sudden pain, it reminded her that she was alive. Watching the dead of the fallen  guard had left a residual numbness. Though she hated being so harsh, there was a lesson here that needed learning. For the both of them.

“Fear is the greatest of sins,” she said, “you must master it, overcome and embrace it, let it become part of you.”

She felt the girl’s anger, shame, and respect like a low hum on the air. Telia hoped she would not have to revisit the lesson again. Wyn was a good girl, talented, but young and sometimes headstrong. They had only been together for a few short months before they’d been sent out on this increasingly disturbing mission of rumors, shadows and death. Telia had always shied away from taking on a charge, though she knew it was an inevitable requirement of her. She had become accustomed to doing things and being on her own, relying on her senses, abilities and wits to serve her Goddess, but over the past few weeks she’d grown increasingly grateful for the girl’s presence.

“Recite our creed,” Telia commanded.

Wyn took a deep breath, “It is only in the deepest waters and the darkest shadows absolution is found.”

Telia nodded curtly and held out her still burning hand. Wyn returned her time-worn cane, smoothed by years of use, and she closed her fingers around the familiar wood. “Remember those words and when fear begins to take you… say them. Whisper them, sing them, scream them if you must, but heed them.”

“Yes Lu’selena, I am sorry.” The girl did sound contrite. Telia was satisfied.

Telia stepped away from the dead man, lifting her skirts and frowning. “We cannot pursue them tonight, but we need to warn the villagers and we are low on supplies.” They had been traveling for weeks across the southern most clans of the Summer Lands in pursuit of their quarry through forests and fields. They were both road wearied and disheartened.

“Yes Lu’selena. What…” the girl hesitated, “what are these things exactly? You’ve never truly said.”

“They…” Telia paused to considered her words carefully, “they are beings that should not be here. What brought them or how they came here is still unclear.”

“Does it have anything to do with-“

Telia raised a hand to silence her, “We should not speak of it here where anyone or anything might listen. I don’t trust the open spaces, or these woods, something sinister lingers. We must hurry now. I don’t want to be caught in daylight.”

They left the dead men where they lay the taste of life, death and blood a bitter sweetness in her mouth. She was tired, bone tired. Deciphering the blood of a dying man during the Months of Light and Burning had drained her and, not for the first time, she felt frustrated by the seasons and the ever-increasing limitations they placed on her abilities. Had they been in the months of Water and Darkness she’d have hunted down the foul creatures with ease. There was little use in complaining, she chastised herself, she had her duty and it could not wait for the changing of the seasons.

The village was not far, and their horses were where they had left them, tied to a massive thulla tree and lightly grazing. Sweet tepid air swept across her face mockingly. Telia missed the chill of winter with a desperation she was unfamiliar with, thinking with longing of the frozen Island that had been her home since her earliest memories. It is only in the deepest waters and the darkest shadows that absolution is found, she recited silently. The words gave her strength, just as they always had but even in her mind the words seemed diluted, as though they were a well she was slowly draining. Telia ignored the anxious itch between her shoulder blades and the unease in her heart.

The two women mounted wordlessly and took off toward the warm light of Southern Belle to the west, leaving the shadows of the forest behind.

Brothers In Fire

Prologue

The sun pressed with heavy hands on Himthel’s back and neck, threatening to overpower his already trembling knees as he stumbled through the surrounding destruction. A fiery wind tore at his fraying cloak and pulled at his ash spotted beard with vicious fingers, sucking the moisture from flaking, burning skin.

Around him charred blackness extended as far as the eye could see, an enormous coppery sun commanding the wasteland like a ruthless dictator. Twisted forms of blasted trees were his only companions as he took each laboring step, every press of his tattered boots a testament to his resolve. Ahead, shimmering dreamlike in the heat, was a vast obsidian tower with the crown blown off, set like a decaying wound against the snow-capped Summer Mountains. Nothing moved for miles. Nothing living ventured into The Desolation. Even the sky was free of birds and no insects chirped or stirred. It had been half a century since man had dared make the journey to the ruined temple, but an unforgiving purpose drove Himthel forward at the point of a twisting spear.

He was nearly delusional with heat and thirst when he reached the crumbling steps of the temple, clinging to life by the thinnest of threads. He began his ascent slowly and it was nearly sunset when he at last achieved the upper most platforms, half crawling on blackened hands and bloodied knees. Once the temple had been made of the finest stone and marble, the careful, dedicated work of four generations of his brethren, now it was only a blasted skeleton of itself. Wavering and rasping, Himthel made his way into the gaping maw of the central citadel. Silhouettes of twisted, incinerated bodies decorated the walls of the circular chamber within, an immortal mural of the horrible terror that had been unleashed and all that remained of his acolytes and peers.

Above the broken tower rose to a shadowy zenith, the bloodied sun only a distant pinprick. Hovering several feet above the rubble and ash, illuminated in a thin ray of sunlight, hung a figure cloaked in white and gold.

“I didn’t think I would see you again, brother,” the figure said, turning gradually. Framed in a gold threaded hood was an achingly handsome man of indeterminable age. Flaxen hair hung down to his trim waist and golden eyes gleamed and shifted.

“You are not my brother,” Himthel rasped and his voice was like sand across dusty floors.

The god-like creature looked crestfallen, “How cruel, have I not been magnanimous, brother? I let you live, after all.”

Himthel fell to his knees, not in reverence, but in deathly exhaustion. The man laughed and it sounded like bells and music; Himthel winched at the sound, pain radiating in his skull.

“I must say, you did not age well,” the man remarked and drew nearer, feet ever off the decimated floor.

Himthel pulled what passed for a sneer, chapped lips breaking and bleeding, “Funny, I could say the same for you.”

The man smirked, “What brings you back to this place? Thought to die among the remains of your pathetic followers?” His silk draped arms reached wide as though embracing the destruction and decay, “Or were you hoping for recompense? I’m afraid your god no longer lives here.”

Fighting back unconsciousness with quickly dwindling strength, Himthel said, “I come with a message.”

Another tinkling laugh and the figure came forward till he hovered just before the prone old man, “And what message might that be? What have I to possibly fear from you or any other mortal?”

With fumbling hands Himthel drew something from his faded red cloak, holding it between them like a challenge. Slowly and with deliberate dramatization, he unfurled his fingers like the petals of a wilted flower. Against his steady, wrinkled palm, lay a medallion of gold and silver, split into fourths. Barely visible seams ran between each section, alluding to four pieces which created the whole, each side etched and carved with a specific deity.

In a voice that seemed to come from everywhere and no where all at once, Himthel said, “The war has only just begun.”

The earth shook and the shadows deepened, a heart stopping scream of pure fury rent the air. The tower erupted like a spout of flame, shooting hell fire hundreds of feet into the sky. The surrounding land was again awash in a wave of violent destruction, only this time there was nothing left to destroy. The pillar of flame burned for two days and the message was clear to those who knew how to listen.

War.