Here's the opening chapter from The Five Furies of Heaven - an epic fantasy with coming of age and perhaps even some light D&D elements too.
Ideally, this will be released early Feb, but I'm not sure when exactly, yet. It's been exceptionally exciting to work on a couple of new stories for a good part of last year but I'm also starting to get the urge to return to Thomas and Mia from The Red Hourglass and of course, Never.
Kilek slid to a halt, his arm outstretched. “See? It’s a sword. I told you.”
Steel glinted beneath the noon sun. A blade protruded from the rockslide that lay beside the old highway where the road cut through rust-coloured hills. The village had already cleared most of the stone and mud but last night, a faint rumbling reached Kilek where he lay abed, listening to Camilea’s wheezing snore from across the room. Even then, he’d nearly sat up and snuck out to investigate, certain it was a second slide.
But the risk was too great; Camilea would flog him if he was caught.
Yet his guess was perfect.
Tyar grinned. “Well, well. That’s twice you’ve been right today,” he said, pushing his blond hair back from his forehead and wiping at the sweat. He leant on his bow. “Sure you want to go down there? Doesn’t look too stable.”
Kilek unslung his pack, mostly water, food and bundles of ballas wood for the cleaning of the old temple. “I’ll be careful.”
“You’d better be. I don’t want to explain to your sister that I let you get yourself killed clumping through that muck.”
Kilek frowned at his friend. “Let? Exactly how much older than me do you think you are? And Camilea’s only my half-sister – why do I have to remind you every time?”
Tyar sighed. “I’m hoping you’ll give up soon.”
Kilek started down the slide, testing each piece of mud-caked stone with his boot before putting his full weight upon it. “Well here’s another reminder – she’ll be too drunk to know any different, let alone care.”
“Do you really think that?” Tyar’s voice bore a trace of sadness.
Kilek didn’t turn his head. “Yes.”
He hopped over a twisted oak branch and landed on a slab of stone, dropping to a crouch to keep his balance. The muddy gravel, which had yet to set completely, gave way but not enough to send him tumbling down. He sucked in a breath. If it did, he’d break a limb at best and be buried alive at worst.
But the sword was close; the lion’s head pommel clear.
Mud cloaked most of the blade but enough caught the light to see that it had barely been tarnished. He stretched forward. The slab of stone slid a little further. “Come on.”
He gripped the handle and pulled.
The blade slid free with a rasp.
Kilek grinned as he lifted it to brush at the dirt. Numbers, etched into the blade. Eighteen, nineteen. Twenty-three and thirty-six. Were they supposed to be dates? Ages?
“Well?” Tyar called down.
“Got it.” Kilek hooked the blade through his belt and started back up the slide, presenting it to Tyar when he reached level ground.
“Looks old,” his friend said. He peered at the engraving, flicking more dirt to the ground. “The numbers don’t make much sense.”
“Maybe they meant something to the owner? Like famous battles?”
Tyar nodded. “Mathi might know; she’s obsessed with all that.” He handed it back. “Let’s hurry it up, I want to get this over and done with – I’ve got too much to do back at the inn.”
“Sneaking wine isn’t work, Tyar.”
“Well, it isn’t exactly easy, either.”
Kilek chuckled as he collected his pack and started along the highway once more, Tyar at his side. Birdsong overhead competed with the crunch of their boots, and then, after a time, muttering as they climbed one of the steeper hills.
A dark wood waited beyond the crest but above the green treetops, peeked the tip of a stone tower – the old Temple of Avendria. Disused since before his grandfather’s time to hear old Dorael tell it, and he was probably right given the condition of the place. While folk in the north hadn’t precisely turned their back on the Goddess, she was certainly rarely worshipped further south either. Kilek hadn’t been within since last spring, during the chore of their previous cleaning trek.
“Think it’ll be overrun with paddots again?” Tyar asked.
Kilek nodded. “I packed extra ballas wood – if we have to, we’ll smoke them out.”
“Good, because my bow isn’t the best for this sort of work.”
The late spring air was cooler beneath the elms, shade soon helping to chill the sweat on the back of his neck. The path quickly became overgrown by mud-weed and bracken where the half-buried stone branched toward the temple. A wooden sign burdened with lichen proclaimed the Temple of Avendria just ahead, but a crumpled shape lay beyond – too small for a person. Perhaps an animal?
Kilek slowed as he drew near, glancing to Tyar, whose own brow was furrowed.
Part of the shape was covered in orange fur – a motionless fox. Yet it was the... thing caught in the animal’s jaws that gave Kilek pause. A huge insect, and it seemed just as dead as the fox. Pale purple ichor had burst from its narrow body, spilling across the fox’s head and searing the flesh down to the bone. One of the creature’s translucent black wings had been crushed and a faint acrid scent lingered in the air.
“By all the Gods… What is that?” Tyar said as he knelt, reaching out.
Kilek caught his friend’s arm. “Don’t touch it.”
Tyar nodded. He drew his belt knife and lifted the insect’s body. The underside gleamed; six jagged legs curled up, tiny white hairs visible. It was unpleasant, but far worse was the new, pungent scent the movement seemed to unleash, so strong that it began to burn Kilek’s airways.
He turned his head as he coughed. “That isn’t natural,” he said when he looked back. “Have you ever even heard of something like this?”
Tyar had moved his blade to the head – yet he flinched away when his probing revealed red mandibles and an ichor-filled mouth beneath bulging eyes. They, too, had been dull purple orbs.
“No. And we should leave it alone,” Tyar said, wiping his blade on the ground before he stood.
“I think we should bury it.”
“In case another animal comes across it and is killed. Or a person,” he added, glancing away from the thing.
“Shouldn’t we get to the temple? I want to be home before dark.”
Kilek frowned. Burying the insect creature wouldn’t take so long... but he had to admit, touching it wasn’t so appealing, even with a boot. Not even ants or maggots wanted to come close – they’d confined themselves to the opposite end of the fox. “I suppose.” He took the old sword and used it to slide the animal and insect from the trail. “That will have to do for now.”
“We’ll figure it out later,” Tyar said, dragging Kilek by the shoulder.
Kilek stumbled after, unable to stop himself casting a glance back at the mute pile, patches of red and purple harsh beneath the bracken.